Nov 232014

The Guardian reports the following this afternoon:

Liberal Democrats and civil liberties campaigners have welcomed new measures requiring internet service providers to keep data that identifies online users, but said it must not be seen as a way of reviving the “snooper’s charter”.

The Tory MP and civil liberties campaigner David Davis MP said the measure to link subscribers’ data to specific smartphones, laptops or other devices through their internet protocol (IP) addresses was a sensible change, but that it should not be used as a “stepping stone back to the old snooper’s charter”.

Considering the number of criminals apparently operating within the spheres of politics, security and policing over the years, I’m not sure this is actually the sensible change we’re being told it is.

One thing does occur to me, however – something which I’m sure others will also comment, but which I haven’t yet seen mentioned widely.  An example which happened to me the other day, as an example of what I’m talking about.

Some weeks ago I was cold-called by someone trying to convince me I had a problem with my computer.  It was the same old scammy script as always: “We’re calling about your Windows computer – it looks like it has a virus on it.”  They generally pretend to be phoning on behalf of Microsoft.  And thus it was this time round.  I acted with the caller as I do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, when I forestall their patter by telling them I’m a Catholic – in the case of my computer, the message I transmit is analogous: I only have Linux.  That soon enough frightens them into putting the phone down, way before I need to do the same.

On Thursday, I believe about the same time as the previous occasion, I received a second call with the same approach.  This time, however, the caller claimed to be calling from an ISP – I’ll spare their blushes and not say which.  The interesting thing was that the ISP they claimed to be calling from is actually, really, my ISP.  Whether really, actually, it was my ISP making the call in question is, of course, still under investigation.  They promised to call me back when they had more information.  I’m awaiting that call.

So.  To the bright idea of tying in some database or other users and their devices to specific IP addresses.  Great idea; it’s frequently the case anyway; in fact, if you have a blog with a stats plug-in, you often have a fairly good idea of where many of your readers hail from.  If it’s that easy to know without more complicated tech, it really can’t be difficult for the security forces to be doing the same.

It may, therefore, be that Theresa May’s proposals are little more than a formulating and legalising of current practice out there.


What I’m really worried about is a rather different set of circumstances: imagine that scammy call which claimed to be from my ISP, and which was looking to install a piece of spyware on my computer in exchange for my credit-card details, was made on the basis of customer data sold on by someone who shouldn’t have sold it on to anyone.  Imagine, now, tying specific customers and specific devices to IP addresses becomes evermore common practice, and gets registered and deposited in multiple databases all over: that’s a trail of identity information criminals could use to track, follow and hack very precisely not just into any old objective of random botnet construction but also targeted individuals and concrete profiles.  That governments who we would like to believe are not criminals need to do such stuff is bad enough.  But that the facilitating of such process and procedure makes it easier for the bad guys to do the same … well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

In a sense, we could argue by making more common the practice of matching users with IP addresses, we’re not just allowing our legitimate security services to ensure we’re not doing stuff we shouldn’t – we’re making it easier for criminal elements (whether scandalously within governments or traditionally without) to enter our consequently unprotected homes.

In my ignorance of the matter, all I can see is this: the government, while looking to make the web a better and safer place, is going to be giving the criminals – who, alongside us, clearly co-exist in this virtual world – the already vulnerable keys to our sitting-rooms.

And that really can’t be a good idea, can it?

Nov 222014

Are UKIP and the BBC made for each other?

The BBC has recent documented form: the NHS privatisation process was summarily ignored by its journalists.  We outside the BBC assume this is due to a deliberate and intentioned act of conspiracy – maybe, charitably, fear of a mauling at the hands of the Daily Mails of the world too – which leads most of them to act as one.

But what if it was the web itself which provided the railway tracks that defined the journey not only BBC journalists are taking but, more and more, all journalists who use this interconnected marvel?

Take a look at the following screenshot – or at least how it was rendered by the BBC website this morning when I first browsed there (the missing facts are, in fact, now completely missing!).

Reckless BBC factoids

As you can see, we have in a bulleted list “Fact 1″ and “Fact 2″ – but nowhere are the blessed beasts themselves to be found.

A slip of the virtual pen, clearly.  But in its slip, it reveals how stories are put together: an intro in bold, an overview paragraph, a pair of factoids designed to build up and support one position or t’other (in this case I presume Nigel Farage).

Isn’t it so easy to choose to follow the crowd; to accept received opinion; to confect a reality as per the framework the website template provides?

And wouldn’t it be even easier to ensure – by way of self-interested template design – that one’s workforces did just that?

No need for conspiracy.  No need for dark deeds.  The guarantees of charismatic leadershipobedience without ownership – multiplied a thousandfold wherever a content management system was present.

Maybe it’s not the BBC journalists we should be raging at after all.

Who knows?  Maybe, again, it’s the machine-to-machine web that’s slowly encroaching on all our decision-making, perceptions and humanity.  Maybe that’s what’s at fault.  And maybe such a web of trammelled truths is precisely why the UKIPs of the world are hitting their mark.  Prejudice lends itself to unquestioning repetition: what is a website template if not the CSS of reality?


Update to this post: further reading has just come my way.  This talk by Emily Bell says lots of lovely things.  Worth reading in full, here are some excerpts which caught my eye:

  • “To have our free speech standards, our reporting tools and publishing rules set by unaccountable software companies is a defining issue not just for journalism but the whole of society.”
  • “The fourth estate, which liked to think that it operated in splendid isolation from other systems of money and power, has slipped suddenly and conclusively into a world where it no longer owns the means of production, or controls the routes to distribution.”
  • “Of course, every algorithm contains editorial decisions, every piece of software design carries social implications. If the whole world connects at high speed in 140 characters it changes the nature of discourse and events.”
  • “If there is a free press, journalists are no longer in charge of it. Engineers who rarely think about journalism or cultural impact or democratic responsibility are making decisions every day that shape how news is created and disseminated.”
  • “Every time an algorithm is tweaked, an editorial decision is being made.”
  • “If Facebook can nudge your emotions towards happiness or sadness by manipulating what you see, can it use obscure algorithms to influence something more sinister, such as, for instance, the way we vote?”
  • “[…] In order to preserve our role in any robust way, we must stop relying solely on the tools and platforms of others and build our own.”

And the conclusion of so much concentrated intelligence?  Yes.  Precisely that most socialist of ideas: design, build and own the means of production!

Nov 192014

This article by Julie Bindel, published yesterday on the Guardian newspaper’s website, is interesting.

Certain caveats beforehand (I don’t want a storm of unhappy responses): I’m a man, so like the English in the Scottish referendum, I honestly get the feeling that I have little right to hold an opinion here; also, I get most of my understanding of the world from social networks these days – and if that’s not an example of mediated media, then I don’t know what is.

Mind you, I stopped tweeting at my previous Twitter account, @eiohel, precisely because the heavy weight of so much of that timeline was just too much for my delicate soul to deal with.

So I reverted to the backwater that is @zebrared.  And here I am.

All by-the-by; but also in the way of an explanation for what follows.

A couple of choice phrases from the article linked to above (the bold is mine):

  • “The current climate of McCarthyism within some segments of feminism and the left is so ingrained and toxic that there are active attempts to outlaw some views because they cause offence. Petitions against individuals appear to be a recent substitute for political action towards the root causes of misogyny and other social ills. Petitions have taken over politics.

I’d also argue that personalities have taken over almost everything else.  I’ll explain this assertion later.

More choice phrases (again, the bold is mine):

  • It would appear we have forgotten how to target institutions. The tactic du jour is to wind up a crowd and shut down any nuanced discussion or debate. Patriarchy is being left to its own devices while bad and unpalatable men are being taken to task one by one.”

And finally (the bold my doing once more):

  • “We built this movement on a desire and willingness to question and challenge old assumptions and truisms. We are in danger of becoming autocrats who would rather organise a pile-on than try to change systems. The life blood of feminism is in danger of becoming bile.”

To be honest, I don’t think this is a symptom of decay in feminism.  Or, at least, not just feminism.  The malaise is infecting far more areas of our society than that.  Those of us who affect more than a glancing interest in politics – and as inveterate bloggers, what’s more, a politics which once proudly proclaimed the personal as political – have, paradoxically, long bemoaned the importance of personalities in latterday political discourse to the exclusion of what we variously argue as being the far more relevant matters of policies, the grassroots, party activists, even ordinary voters and their communities.  We’ve had plenty of examples too: one clear one from my own party, Labour.  Whilst Tony Blair reigned over the movement, most of its incongruences seemed well hidden, papered over, perhaps (at least on a good day) non-existent.  As soon as Gordon Brown came to power, the personal contrasts couldn’t have been more marked: almost overnight, the Party started coming apart at the seams of what practically seemed a bogeyman’s sack.

So.  That a certain kind of feminism (the type that targets institutions and structures with thought, wit and accuracy) should become contaminated with the celebocracy of generations brought up on reality shows too numerous to mention – and when I say reality shows, I also mean current affairs programmes which prefer to invite the notorious instead of the informed, any ratings-pursuing day – is, actually, hardly surprising.  The petition-itis mentioned is but another symptom of such a focus on notoriety.  And what in our civilisation is more notorious and worthy of comment than the downfall of an individual – any individual, famous or infamous for whatever it might be – whose misfortune, stupidity or plain rank idiocy allows us to breathe quite relieved that “But for the grace of God, go I …”?

The vicarious thrill of experiencing the fear, riding the rollercoaster and escaping the condemnation was never more apparent.

If the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free” article is anywhere on the button (and I revert to my early caveat – I don’t as a relatively privileged upper-middle-aged man even know whether I have a right to type these words), then feminism – the kind that deconstructs a patriarchy which surely incarcerates us all, whether woman or man – has fallen foul of the instincts described in my post this evening.  In celebrating the importance of the individual, in underlining that every woman, child and oppressed soul matters, we have slipped slowly, silently, sneakily and ultimately over the no-man’s land that lies between a kind, generous, inclusive individualism on the one hand and, on the other, that starstruck, nasty, almost fascist celebration of media-generated idols which Chris Dillow at “Stumbling and Mumbling” has recently been exposing.

It’s sad, bad and very wearisome.  But it’s far far worse, this McCarthyism we perceive, this state of play we experience, this degeneration into lynch-mob behaviours … when perceived, experienced and observed in fields of thought we thought impervious to such influences.

Today, I read with horror that a quarter of all British people questioned want migrants to leave Britain.  (That means a quarter of the people I walk past every day want four-fifths of my family to leave the nation I was born in.)  Then I see my political party reacting with words of consolation for such philosophers of the human condition, and wonder, really, how on earth we got here.

If the touchstone of early 21st century feminism now believes it’s in crisis and has problems … well, surely it’s time we all believed the same: wherever we stand; whatever gender, belief system or century we feel we occupy; however we look at the world that cruelly fails us.

Nov 172014

Miranda Keeling does Twitter brilliantly.  This example today got me thinking:

Woman in a train station: Look, McDonald’s, next to Starbucks, next to KFC. I feel so proud of humanity right now I could go live in a cave.

And I am just as bemused myself.  From search engines like Google to corporate capitalism like the trio mentioned above, choice seems more to make us lose the courage of our convictions than inform our ability to make considered decisions.

So is decision-making not hard-wired into human DNA?  Were we only (are we only) a decisive species when the choices available became few and far between?  Is this why in times of relative peace and tranquillity we apparently revert to a weird and difficult indecisiveness – unable, as we seem to be, to move energetically forward on almost anything?

And is war, human conflict and how we behave during such violence, actually not a result of our innate warlike tendencies but, rather, a result of the closing-down of options and alternatives – in a sense a liberating closing-down?

In the absence of choice, we have no alternative (literally!) to being decisive: the decisions are taken for us by the very absence of distracting other routes and ways.

It’s been said before I’m sure: the consumer in presence of little alternative is a much happier student of life.  You waste far less of your time on trying to come to a conclusion to purchase; you spend far more of your time thinking about conclusions really worth reaching.

Yet, in amongst all the relative confusion of the aforementioned, and even its apparent irrelevance, there is a serious and difficult point to be considered: what if this ever-increasing losing of the courage of our convictions – this growing inability to say, communicate, exchange or write down without first incessantly doublechecking the veracity of what we think we can remember against its actual reality – has long-term implications for the future of all human beings?

If capitalist choice is making us unable to say, do or act in any context without tremendous self-doubt invading our souls (will it – should it – be McDonald’s, Starbucks or KFC?  And if one or t’other, what kind of burger with what kind of sauce; what kind of coffee with what kind of snack; what bargain deal with what kind of dessert; in short, what kind of fast food kick will it be this time?), what does this mean for the integrity of our thought – for the ability humanity needs to be able to move forward with confidence into the unknown?

Surely this strangling – almost at birth by now – by (what we might term) “grand-choice capitalism” … this strangling I say of how we perceive and form opinions of our selves; of how far we can advance by treading sure-footedly on ground which is objectively anything but sure … well, it can hardly help us look to the future with the brashness, bravura and courage we need; the brashness, bravura and courage we’ve displayed, in fact, in the best moments of our collective histories.

Something’s going very wrong here.

Something’s gnawing away at individuals’ abilities to stand on their own two feet; to talk from their own soapboxes; to express their own positions; to declaim their own thoughts; to be fully, concisely and decisively different from all their fellow men, women and children.

Something quite terrible.

Something, we might say, abysmal.

Abysmal … as in “abyss”.

Nov 162014

Eric Joyce MP wrote a very clever piece yesterday, with the aim (I think) of deconstructing Ed Miliband’s current manifestation of Labour.  I’d like to try and do the same with this clever piece, in the forty minutes before I start my next online English class.

Here are some of the things he says, interspersed with some of own observations:

Joyce: Labour’s pitch at the moment is that everything in this country is screwed. I’m sort of reluctant to accept that, given that if everything were screwed it would surely have taken more than 4 years for it all to become screwed – wouldn’t it? I mean, screwing everything in 4 years would be an absolutely world-class effort and I really don’t think we can credit the Tories with anything world-class at all. So I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that ‘everything is screwed’ might also be aimed, subtly, at the 13 years of New Labour government which preceded the 4 years of Tory government.

Me: If Labour was saying everything was screwed, then politics, democracy, business and community would be screwed for just about everyone.  As it is, what’s screwed is not – for everyone – these four hoarsepersons of the econopocalypse as such but, rather, for a far too significant minority.  If Joyce is happy to argue they’re operating equitably for quite a few people, so demonstrating they’re not really screwed as Labour says, then we need to agree to disagree.  That these four hoarsepersons always work fine for the well-to-do should mean our politics gets out of the habit of congratulating itself when the stats demonstrate little more than this.

And whilst we’re on the subject, I don’t think anyone outside New Labour should reasonably argue it screwed everything:

  1. It put the roofs back on public services.
  2. It brought a kinder neo-liberal approach to much of our economics, even to the point where some argued it was a sort of socialism by stealth.

Screwed, however, was:

  1. The strategy of PFI for putting those roofs back on those public services, and which is now enabling all kinds of horrible behind-the-scenes privatisation deals in, particularly, the NHS.
  2. Tuition fees, which brought us unnecessarily to the top of the Coalition slippery slope of violently increasing the indebtedness of people at the beginning of their adult lives.

And meanwhile, positively ugly was:

  1. Going into Iraq, without a post-invasion plan.
  2. Promoting all kinds of faith, academy and foundation schools, without thinking through the splintering future implications.
  3. Not taking on people like Murdoch and News of the World, even as something must have been known – at least by those in the know!

So New Labour was great at putting back together Thatcher’s spilt milk, but it left untouched – even moved on – her privatising and corporate-market instincts.

Joyce: The only other way of understanding ‘everything is screwed’ is that democracy is a zero-sum game and when people healthily exercise their right to change the party/ies of government then any good stuff which went before gets negated. Unless, of course, ‘everything is screwed’ is designed as a counsel of despair encouraging us to question the value of democracy itself?

Me: Read this and then come back to me on this matter.  Either something very horrible happened many years ago, something New Labour failed to address (way after the event of course, when it should’ve and maybe could’ve) – or someone/something is now deliberately destabilising democracy with even creepier manoeuvres designed to do just as Joyce says.  But I doubt it’s the current Labour leadership which is driving this creepiness forwards, and I doubt it has anything to do with a wider Party strategy to criticise everything and anything.

Joyce: [There’s a very good bit next on the complicated implications of the so-called mansion tax – you need to read this because here I do have to agree it makes a lot of sense.  Though aiming to screw the rich who buy “mansions” ordinary people would no longer be able to afford anyway – what with the savagely rising costs of living which London is manifesting already – is quite a bit better than not screwing them at all. – Editor]

Joyce: So, let’s see, this is the plan up one of Labour’s sleeves. Place at the centre of the general election an increase in NHS expenditure funded (even although the sums don’t add up) by having regular middle-class folk move out of London in order to be replaced by much richer folk from overseas; promise the Scots – almost none of whom will pay the new tax – that the folk actually paying the tax will have no say whatever in how that money is spent in Scotland. And for good measure ensure that the Scots, who may well hold the balance of UK power after the election, can have all the say they like when it comes to telling the English mansion tax payers how their tax pounds must be spent. Meanwhile, imply that everything is screwed because all the UK-wide parties have made things that way.

Me: The bit about the NHS is horrible.  If the sums don’t add up, and Joyce must know because that’s his business to do so, at the very least he should say:

  1. Labour is over-promising here because it doesn’t want to explain the reality.
  2. I, however, am prepared to explain the reality: people, even under Labour, will die over the next few years where in other times, pre-credit crunch, pre-austerity and pre-whatever-you-want they wouldn’t have.  Partly because even Labour doesn’t know how to do the numbers; partly because it’s no longer the business of politics to enable life for the vast majority of the far less-well-off.

Or maybe the pressure of having to give a class at six o’clock is pushing me to being terribly unfair.


Just a piece of advice to the realistic politicians out there (and I say “realistic”, I promise you, without a smidgen of irony): don’t forget that the far less-well-off are living horrible lives at the moment – not because there isn’t enough dosh swilling around out there but, rather, because it’s uselessly concentrated without a productive use being made of it.  To focus on saying the sums don’t add up is to give weight to the arguments of all wealth concentrators.

Instead, I suggest, we make a list of what needs to be done.

And then do the sums in such a way that what needs to be done, can be done.

That, I think, is what’s behind Labour’s current strategy (even if, sometimes, of late and before, it’s not as clear as a politically professionalised approach should be able to make it).

That, and not some evil knife in the back of three grand election victories – victories which Blairites have every right to be proud of.

So a final thought: all yous New Labour souls – so sensitive with your our history, perhaps understandably so, perhaps reasonably so – do try and remember what it was like not to have the advantages New Labour demonstrably delivered to a large majority of the country.  For not having those advantages has returned in four short years to far too many of our fellow citizens.

And this is precisely because the Tories haven’t been incompetent at all.  Over those four short years I mention, they’ve sneakily used the cloak of incompetence to fool the very best political, scientific, medical, legal and educational minds, in order that they be allowed to continue dismantling practically everything constructive the UK represented.

Labour hasn’t been battering its collective head against Blair & Co since 2010 – nor is it doing so at the moment.  In the light of this Tory competence, still unacknowledged from a strategic point of view, it has far more important things to do than that.

That’s what it’s been doing – and what it continues to need to do.  Give it the credit it deserves.

Nov 152014

In 2012, I concluded:

Capitalism is seen as light-of-touch because it’s an inevitable process towards an injustice it has no need to question.  It doesn’t really acquire a baggage of ideas because ideas aren’t its purpose.

Meanwhile, socialism is dogma-ridden because it’s a discipline of thought which both cares and dares to question not only that injustice but many others out there.

We may eventually need both, of course – I’m not suggesting that might not be the case.  But I do wonder if it is right to position them as mirror images of the other.  It’s both inaccurate in the case of capitalism as well as manifestly unfair in the case of socialism.

Yesterday, however, I was of a different mood altogether:

Know it’s conspiratorial, & infirm, to suggest #austerity is a globally coordinated plan. But if it isn’t, humanity’s discovered telepathy!

Or demonstrated the existence of synchronicity. Or Gaia. Or something.

Anyhow. If 20th century Communism had managed to engineer an #austerity on the scale we have it, we’d say it was deliberate and systemic.

But since its 21st century capitalism that’s doing the #austerity, we see it as random consequences of cyclical inevitability. Weird really.

& anyone who says that #austerity is coordinated is immediately typed as paranoid.
At least in the Cold War, paranoia was a virtue.

And so I suggested, earlier in the day, that:

In the end, the three steps as described above reposition our leaders, both political and business, in roles of great power and immense hierarchy over the ordinary folk: the paradox being that whilst independence is being savagely preached in public discourse, in truth the reality has reimposed a grand and terrible dependence of almost everybody on pyramidal structures we thought once well-vanquished long ago.

Instead of the broadly accepted randomness and essential unpredictability of capitalism-infused structures, we get me imposing agency in that almost paranoid way I describe.

Maybe I am paranoid; maybe that’s what unrelenting years of relative poverty do to one.  But again, I would point you in the direction of who benefits (even at the risk of being accused of ever-increasing levels of paranoia!): if someone, some group, some coordinated interests were globalising austerity as I suggest, wouldn’t it also be in their interests to suggest all normal-thinking people consider it random?

Alternatively, we could posit the possibility that 21st century corporate capitalism is so like 20th century Communism in its highly centralised economic structures (just run far far more efficiently, and with tools that lend themselves to such efficiencies) that perhaps we’re not describing a world where free-market capitalism won the day – and consequently it’s fair, now (that is to say, not at all paranoid), to believe those economic structures mostly act as one.

Furthermore, we have the West’s view of oppressive regimes such as North Korea, where agency, intentionality and malice in the drive to a wider societal austerity are – quite rightly, quite accurately – attributed on a daily basis.  But where all three of the latter exist (ie that agency, intentionality and malice I describe), it would be disingenuous to argue they could be satisfactorily combated by Western alliances without one – oneself – exhibiting and acquiring at least aspects of the same characteristics.


Nov 142014

These three tweets retweeted into my timeline this morning have caught my eye.  They attribute the following statements to Channel 4’s economics editor, Paul Mason – mainstream (if fairly independent and questioning) media to boot.  And they run as follows:

“We’re trapped inside neo-liberalism” says Paul Mason, Economics Editor, Channel 4 News.


If I was to form a party, it would have two core tenets, says Paul Mason:

1. Kill neoliberalism
2. Move beyond capitalism


I’d nationalise all grids, all networks. And bring in universal basic income; a subsidy for moving to a non-work economy—Mason #futureshock

Now if someone like Mason can be saying, publicly, stuff like this – fairly revolutionary stuff in the context of so much unchallenged austerity (or if not unchallenged, at least untoppled) – what must be going on behind the Bilderberg scenes?

Let’s just take apart the trajectory of austerity: a very old childhood friend of mine once explained to me how they’d been told the 2008 crisis was deliberately triggered.  At the time, I dismissed this as conspiracy baloney (without saying I did), but to be sure this crisis didn’t half come in handy.  Ordinary people were becoming wealthier; leisure time was being dedicated to ever-growing active participation (or meddling, depending on your point of view) in democratic process (as well as cut-price holidays to all corners of the world!); citizens in general were getting a taste for the better times, both culturally and more importantly economically.  Salaries were rising; demands for decent, dignified working conditions becoming more widespread … all in all, life was getting hard for those top capitalists amongst us of a lazy bent (not by any means the majority, of course; but perhaps far more than a minority if we define them in terms of the riches they lever).

So 2008 was a great excuse to empty hard-earned savings from the pockets of the reasonably ordinary – the ones really to be feared in times of significantly peaceful disruption.  (The extremists are never a problem: it’s easy, rightfully so, to get people to side against them.  But the people you should never keep your eyes off are the decent, thoughtfully silent majorities.)  By emptying such savings, we were emptying peace of mind.  And by emptying peace of mind, we were emptying the ability of most to react creatively before the war that the elites were about to wage on them.

‘Question, naturally, is: why wage a war on your own people?  Why, in a supposedly liberal economy, would you want to destroy the ability of your customers to continue buying your products and services?

I suggest two or three reasons to explain austerity’s implementation:

  1. In times of crisis such as these, when markets splinter and smaller units of production begin to attack existing interests, it’s normal for the latter to want to neutralise the dangers.  I’m not attributing evil motivations here; I can understand, from my irrelevantly tiny experience as a businessperson myself, what drives people into – and keeps them within – what we might term the jungle of capitalism.  So austerity is a perfect tool to put into place a siege: a process of attrition, if you like, which only the biggest can survive.
  2. The second step is to argue that people must become independent of the state, so as not to occupy the role of scroungers who live off society (this also, partly, with the objective of distracting us from the reality that large organisations and transnational corporations are anything but independent of their political sponsors).  And whilst all possibility of being independently and sustainably employed has been progressively eliminated by step 1, as described above, and all possibility of feeling decent about being dependent on the state has been eliminated by step 2, as described here, we create a society of subjects absolutely unable to and terrified of using their imaginations for anything like getting out of the holes they suddenly find their leaders have located them in.
  3. Therefore, as society’s overriding discourse becomes one essentially of the need for both corporations and flesh-and-blood persons to sink or swim on their own behalf, the reality is actually as follows: on the one hand, these corporations absorb the wealth that once belonged to the public sector, living as parasites (or symbiotically – I am still not sure which) on the public host; on the other hand, these flesh-and-blood persons, whilst rubbished for being poor and being simultaneously exhorted to stop being poor by themselves, become even more dependent on the state for their mental and physical wellbeing.

In the end, the three steps as described above reposition our leaders, both political and business, in roles of great power and immense hierarchy over the ordinary folk: the paradox being that whilst independence is being savagely preached in public discourse, in truth the reality has reimposed a grand and terrible dependence of almost everybody on pyramidal structures we thought once well-vanquished long ago.

So is that the be-all-and-end-all of austerity?  Just that?  Isn’t there a loose end – a humongous loose end – dangling at the end of our process?

Why undermine the spending of so many “units” of consumer purchasing-power?  Why deliberately reduce the potential market for value-added products and services?  Why aim to make everyone as poor as church mice?

Here, then, comes step 4: whilst the first three steps were necessary to re-establish corporate capitalism’s equilibrium and rules in the face of open-source movements, libertarian politics and much nastier elements out there, once re-established such an equilibrium, the plan will be also to re-establish that lost purchasing power.  Of course, before that is done, the public sector (the NHS, education, fire services, Legal Aid, police services and a whole swathe of other support environments) needs to be privately mined for as much public wealth as can possibly be transferred in the meantime.  But eventually, even economic behemoths such as health services will run their course.  And private citizens’ spending power will return to the agendas of almost all politicians – clearly alongside, that is, their cosy business leaders and interests.

So it is we come to that step 4 which I’ve mentioned previously: the universal basic income (UBI) which Mason has publicly espoused.  Imagine, now, after austerity’s been a) used to re-engineer terrified dependence on the status quo by formerly independent, creative and thoughtful souls – unpredictable souls, mind (maybe that was the real problem) – and b) used to re-establish important controls over society’s running by equally dependence-forming transnationals, how easy it would now become to introduce such a basic income, as well as get widespread and publicly relieved acceptance.

To understand the issue and the establishment’s fears, of course, we’d have to examine what might happen were it to be done in a different way: in a world, pre-austerity, with a) the sense of security provided by so many hard-earned savings in so many hard-working pockets; b) coupled with the guarantees and safety nets a society with secure welfare systems in place would offer; and c) in addition to the joy of not worrying any longer what the end of the month would bring … well, to introduce a UBI in such a context would mean the predictable and probably short-term collapse of the big interests we’ve been talking about and their hierarchies.

However, if you use austerity first to position society as you need it, ensuring that ordinary citizens forget what different futures might have been, as you force them to suffer a decade of lost generations … well, then, a life as a kept consumer-patty doesn’t seem such a bad choice or outcome after all.

Am I right?  Is this analysis just the ramblings of a daft amateur thinker?

For you to judge, dear readers.  For you to judge.

Have a good day, as always.  And don’t forget – whatever the miseries around you – to continue to strive to be creative in your thoughts.

Nov 122014

This morning, a nerve-wracking Microsoft Windows 8.1 update hit my laptop.  Later in the day, though taking much longer, it seemed to go far more smoothly on a Vista machine.  But then in the second case I didn’t choose “Update and restart” – I reverted to what anecdotally always seems to be the far more robust “Update and shutdown”, plus manual restart.

The strange thing about this update – on my Windows 8.1 machine, I mean – was that all of a sudden of the habitually 30-odd Skype contacts of mine who normally show as online the whole 24 hours a day, only three to five were showing the aforementioned status.  Meanwhile, loading up the same Skype account on my Vista machine showed everything as normal.

A second curiosity: since Skype put chat in the cloud, when you send a chat message to someone offline, instead of the irritating “wait circle” you simply get the message delivered, and it’s waiting there for when its recipient goes back online – whether you yourself are online at the time or not.  Well, wouldn’t you know it?  Whilst the functionality remained as of late, and as expected under my Vista machine, and I was able to see messages delivered to people showing as offline, the irritating “wait circle” had returned to my 8.1, so much so that the messages didn’t get delivered at all.  Except to two members of my family.  Yes.  Under 8.1, I was still able to communicate with them.

In fact that “wait circle” reminded me of more private and secure Skype times, when chats weren’t held in distant servers but were either delivered or not from computer to computer.

Except this way of doing things, if I’ve understood correctly, has no longer been the case since the beginning of 2014.

Where am I going with this then?

If the problem was my Skype install (I did two clean reinstalls – one, myself, following online instructions; the other, under the guidance of the excellent support staff I was eventually grateful to stumble across), then why did four people continue to show up as online – even under 8.1?  And if the problem was my anti-virus (we’ll get to that later), the same argument surely would apply.

In truth, I was mighty puzzled by it all.  It was almost as if something was stopping the program from properly accessing the whole database of contacts – for some (for me) unfathomable reason.

Anyhow.  Finally the issue was resolved in the following way: after the aforementioned support staff suggested it could be my security software, I made Skype an excepted application for my anti-virus’ protocol filtering.  It was only then when – under 8.1 – all my contacts returned back to the online status, and the “wait circle” stopped appearing on my attempts to send messages to online and offline contacts.

In a minute you’ll be able to read the chat history of this excellent support individual, anonymised as it should be of course.  But before you do (and only if that is what you wish, of course), I’d also like to add to the mix the following additional information in relation to my recent experiences:

  • In order that the email client Thunderbird and the browser SeaMonkey don’t become incapacitated with security messages from within themselves, and after a previous suggestion of the anti-virus people themselves in relation to the same thing happening when I tried to access Gmail about two years ago, I’ve also found myself obliged to except both from the software’s web and email protocol filtering, in much the same way as with Skype this evening
  • Though I know very little about this subject, the fact that icky Gmail certificates were generating warning messages when my anti-virus was full-on didn’t impress me very much – and this was way before Snowden and stuff.
  • The fact that the pattern then repeated with two open-source programs like Thunderbird and SeaMonkey impressed me even less.
  • And the fact that the only way Skype is now usable for me under Windows 8.1 involves me engaging with the same rather strange, rather daft procedure makes me wonder if something else isn’t happening more generally here; even, if it mightn’t be symptomatic of silly shenanigans.*


To finish.

The raw data.  Attached below.



* Mind you, I’ve just been reliably informed (very reliably informed) that more than shenanigans of a sort we should tend to distrust, this is likely to be the consequence, once again, of rubbishly complicated software systems.

General Info
Chat start time  Nov 12, 2014 3:45:52 PM EST
Chat end time  Nov 12, 2014 5:00:26 PM EST
Duration (actual chatting time)  01:14:34
Operator  C
Chat Transcript
info: Please wait for an agent to respond.  You are currently ‘1’ in the queue.
info: Privacy Statement
You are now chatting with ‘C’.

Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Hi
C: Welcome to Skype Live Support, My name is C
C: If incase we get disconnected, simply click on the Chat Support Link and you will be reconnected to us in no time.
C: With that being said, how can I help you today?
C: Hello
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I updated Windows 8.1 this morning, Vista later in the day on a separate PC.
C: Alright
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Although on the Vista laptop everything has remained the same with Skype, on the 8.1 three-quarters of my contacts show as offline.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: When on Vista they all show as online.
C: I see
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve uninstalled Skype; downloaded the new UI Skype for Desktops from your download page, installed that instead; the issue remains the same.
C: If I may ask where you able to have a chat conversation with this offline contacts?
C: Don’t worry, I have an idea of what the issue could be. Let me just ask you a few questions to narrow down the possibilities. Alright?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I sent a chat to someone who was intermittently online and offline; all I got was the wait circle (like you used to get before cloud chat).
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
C: May I have your name and your Skype name.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Miljenko Williams
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: oleokcom
C: Nice to meet you Miljenko
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Nice to meet you, too. :-)
C: Since you already did some basic trouble shooting.
C: Let me inform you that we are having an issue regarding the update of our online storage.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Skype is currently updating it’s online storage which we normally call as the ‘CLOUD”.As for effect some customers experience issues regarding seeing their contacts online but in reality they are offline or signed out.
C: I believe this is what happening on your part. If you are both online to your Vista an 8.1. If you see the contact online on Vista message the contact if he/she replies then that person is really online but appearing offline in windows 8.1.
C: But if the person appears online in Vista then no reply after your chat message then his status in the windows 8.1 which is offline is the real one.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. However, the online status for practically everyone works under Vista and 8.1 for my other account miljenko.williams – no difference between the two. The difference only seems to be with 8.1 immediately after the 8.1 update this morning.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And on the oleokcom account.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Different contacts in some cases, of course.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But it still seems a bit of a coincidence.
C: Can you confirm different account same contacts?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Someone messaged me under Vista, and was showing online – and yet was showing offline and unreachable to reply via 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Some same contacts, others different.
C: But can you reach the person via Vista?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The message didn’t have the wait circle; I sent it a minute or two after trying under 8.1, when it wouldn’t send at all (got the wait circle).
C: Were you able send message or call the person using your Vista?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: So it looks like the message was delivered as per cloud features; whether this means the other person received it, I don’t know. They didn’t reply.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can try to do it now if you are prepared to wait.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can try with 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: to someone who is normally online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And I expect to be.
C: Since you mentioned that it is not workign properly on windows 8.1
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But currently shows offline.
C: I need to confirm if same goes with your Vista
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ll try on the Vista PC if you can wait.
C: Alright please take your time.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Have just sent a message to an “offline” person via 8.1; shows the wait circle just waiting to deliver (as happened with Skype in the past before cloud storage of chat).
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Will now try via Vista.
C: alright
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. A contact shows online under Vista and the oleokcom account. I’ve sent a message and it’s been delivered (tho’ I don’t yet know if read).
C: I have two options for you here. 1. I can guide you on how to do basic trouble shooting to fix your issue or 2.If it’s okay with you , I can do basic troubleshooting on my end if you will allow me to share access to your device.Which one would you prefer?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve now sent a message under 8.1 and the oleokcom account, and it refuses to deliver.
C: I see
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Can we try 1 and then if it doesn’t produce the result, can we try 2?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If you don’t mind.
C: Alright
C: Let us make a clean uninstall to your skype for desktop.
C: THis are some basic trouble shooting.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
C: 1. Delete skype folder in %appda%
C: 2.Delete skype folder in %Temp%
C: 3.Delete skype folder in Program Data
C: Make sure to quit skype before deleting them.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I think I did that this morning, as per online support at the Skype forum. But I’ll do it again.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I renamed it Skype_old
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: (Step 1)
C: Yes
C: But how about the Temp folder
C: The Program Data ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The temp folder too. But I’m happy to do again.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I close Skype down before doing so?
C: Alriht and please make sure to delete the Program Data
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
C: Still there?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes. Just doing.
C: Alright
C: After deleting all folders uninstall your skype
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Done.
C: Alright
C: Already uninstalled and installed skype 6.22 version?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Will do now.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I can do it from the download from this mroning, right?
C: Yes
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. Installed.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I sign-on?
C: Please
C: Alright what seems to be the update?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
C: Well?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The account shows 28 users online under Vista; only four or five under 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Also; this morning, some of the users lost their real names.
C: 5 online and the rest are offline?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: First under 8.1, presumably when I did a clean install.
C: yes
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
C: 5 online on windows 8.1 and the rest offline?
C: Okay now can you try calling the online on your vista if it rings or the call fails
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But this also affected the Vista install, so the real names dropped off too, although I have changed nothing with Vista, and I did do the MS update on Windows this afternoon.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Okay?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The person didn’t answer on the Vista machine. And is offline on 8.1. Shall I try via 8.1?
C: It;s okay
C: if it’s offline it will not answer
C: Is there no contacts that are online on you Vista that is offline on your 8.1 that answers the message or call?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What’s curious is that in the drop down to block people on Tools under Vista,
C: Why what seems to be the problem from there?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: only 4 possible names appear; and under 8.1 no names are possible. It doesn’t give the option, almost as if part of skype isn’t accessing the database of contacts.
C: But were you able to send chat message to your 8.1 skype contacts now/
C: ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Nope.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: It does that wait circle.
C: can you try to turn of your fire wall and antivirus and try to send message.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve just sent a chat to someone else who is online, via 8.1, and no wait circle.
C: No wai circle but it was sent?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Under 8.1.
C: no it’s good?
C: The sendign message?
C: sending**
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Messaging seems to work with at least one contact, but not all.
C: If the problem was your skype then it must be all.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Don’t think it’s an antivirus issue, but I can uncheck Skype from protocol checking if you want.
C: Yes please
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Unless it’s the database behind.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If it were the antivirus, it would stop all messages, not allow one.
C: Just to check
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
C: What it was thinkin is that if the issue was on your skype then it should not have allowed 1 message
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But by the same argument, if it was the antivirus checking protocols, then it wouldn’t allow 1 message either.
C: Just to confirm
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall I log in to Skype and log off?
C: That is why I am asking you to try
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve removed protocol filtering from the antivirus for Skype.
C: Alright please do.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Log off and log on, I meant.
C: Please go and try to use skype message
C: okay
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK. If I don’t use protocol filtering (which isn’t *terribly* safe) then all the contacts under 8.1 appear exactly as under Vista. The problem is the anti-virus, or how it interacts with an 8.1 update which maybe has affected how Skype interacts.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The antir-virus product version hasn’t changed today; the anti-virus updates have continued throughout the day.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I use the same anti-virus on Vista and 8.1.
C: Alright so after doing everything are there any improvement in sending chat mesage?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: With the same settings.
C: I understand. And now what we are trying is to confirm since this is part of basic trouble shooting.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: That’s fine.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I understand.
C: And I want to know if there are some changes after the said action.
C: Now what i am waiting if after doing what i ahev asked is there any changes?
C: If not then fell free to change back the settings of your firewall or anti virus
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I’ve messaged someone else,
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: who messaging before produced the wait circle.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: This time no wait circle.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What puzzles me is why one message did get through, even with protocol filtering, when the rest didn’t.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: In fact, I messaged quite happily with a family member about an hour ago, from 8.1.
C: Since you mentioned this was an update made to th system of your device.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But a number of Vista (and now 8.1) online contacts produced the wait circle.
C: Im afraid only microsfot can answer that what I am trying to do now is do basic trouble shooting until it worked.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But Skype *is* Microsoft!!!!!
C: Since everything happen after the update of your operating system.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But I understand.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: The anti-virus engine hasn’t been updated.
C: Yes it is but for microsoft we have a different specialized team for Micrososft Operating system itself.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I understand that too.
C: We are only being trained on how to work on skype.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And appreciate it.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Now what I am doing now is working on your device based on what I have learned.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Thank you
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Do you need to know the anti-virus product? I don’t usually say, but it might be useful to track issues.
C: For anti virus do you have the option to allow skype as priority?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Not sure about that. What I’ve done is make Skype an exception for protocol filtering under advanced settings for web and email. That has brought back all the contacts as online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And allowed me to deliver messages without the wait circle.
C: Alright
C: good
C: Good that you have set it as exemption then that means your antivirus is running till?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: What I don’t understand is why some contacts were reachable (two, max three) and the vast majority were not.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yes.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And the firewall.
C: Good
C: that is the 2nd thing I want to confirm
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Even with protocol filtering on, those two or three were chattable.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK:
C: Hold on
C: Please listen
C: Please read this carefully
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: I want to confirm if those contacts that are offline on windows 8.1 are reachable on Vista now that they are online in Vista and offline in 8.1?
C: Now please confirm it.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: There are 27 online under 8.1, 27 online under Vista.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: I don’t know if they’re really online.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: But they now sync the same information in the same way.
C: Exactly
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Unfortunately it’s a bit late here,
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: so I can’t be calling people at this time.
C: Hold on
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: can we try to do this?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
C: Just let your skype be online for 12 hours or 24 hours
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Yep.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: On both machines or just one?
C: Since you mentioned taht is updating late on your 8.1.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: 8.1 was updated this morning.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: It took about 45 minutes to complete.
C: But wich one is havin issue isn’t it the 8.1?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: With the MS update.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Not any more. Not since I removed protocol filtering from Skype.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Just now.
C: Alright then no issues already/
C: ?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Well.
C: Well?
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: If Vista is correct and OK, and 8.1 is reading the same, they’re either both right or both wrong. But similarly so in each case.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: That’s all I can say for the moment.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Shall we see if it works tomorrow, when I can call people,
C: Alright so is there any more concern I can help you with?
C: Sure please do.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: and if there is still an issue, I’ll get in touch with you again?
C: Anyways we are open 24 hours 7 days a week
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: OK.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Many thanks for the support you’ve provided.
C: Youa re welcome anytime.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Have a lovely morning/evening/night!!! :-)
C: Thank you aswell
info: Your chat transcript will be sent to at the end of your chat.
C: I’m so happy that I was able to help. In case you have more concerns or issues please don’t hesitate to contact us again or you can visit for more information.
C: Once again, I am C. Thank you for contacting Skype Live Support and giving me the opportunity to assist you. Have a great day .
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: Okey dokey.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: And apologies it took so long.
Mil @ OLE-OK Communications: You too!

Nov 112014

I’ve always loved the idea of art over rational debate and logical thought.  There are some things in life which are mightily ambiguous – and only very good art is able to unambiguously express them.  Whilst science and tech gnaw away at something until it reaches a kind of understanding, this very good art I mention is always happy to express the essential inability of something  else to be properly comprehended.  And it’s not that we don’t have enough information – we often have plenty.  It’s simply that the information we have cannot be satisfactorily couched in take-apart-able thinking terms.

An example of when art is debate enough is the sea of poppies on display at the moment around the Tower of London.  This sea represents a weeping sea of blood, as it reminds us of the horrors of war: specifically, the First World War.  Each of the over 800,000 poppies represents one of the fallen in that terrible conflagration: a conflagration which was a failure of humanity just as much as it was a failure of politics and diplomacy.

I’m pretty sure anyone who visits this moving work of art – moving in the literal as well as the figurative sense – cannot avoid coming out of it with shared and common perceptions: the imagery is too clearly soaked with tragedy – with life and its untimely forced finishing – that very few, whatever their prior positions on this matter, can disagree with the overt thesis.

And yet I think this work of art – apparently titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” – does much more than take a singular position.  I’ve read quite a bit about it over the past few weeks, and still I have not seen bitter or acrimonious discussions coming out of it.  Whether one is in favour of war or not – and with ISIS and Syria continually sapping our moral strength, this is manifestly a time for such discussions to surface sooner or later – the reaction to this artistic installation is, at least for me, curiously muted.  In the face of its ambiguity – like music, it speaks without words we can take apart – we stumble across its very power: no one, whatever their existing/expressed political and military positions, can deny its accurate capturing of all the ambiguity surrounding human conflict.

It doesn’t battle to convince.

It just looks to tie down essence.

It’s not aiming to tell us what we should think.

It’s simply explaining what it is we should think about.

The sharpness of an ambiguity unequivocally communicated – on such a day as today, remember that.

Nov 102014

I’m slowly coming round to the conclusion that capitalism’s not the problem.  True, its richest exponents have distorted representative democracy by buying into all kinds of bodies politic (more here on a related topic – revolving doors).  And this has meant – in real and quantifiable terms – we can now see exactly how our representative democracy’s been hounded to early infirmity:

Present social movements, as “Occupy Wall Street” or the Spanish “Indignados”, claim that politicians work for an economic elite, the 1%, that drives the world economic policies. In this paper we show through econometric analysis that these movements are accurate: politicians in OECD countries maximize the happiness of the economic elite. In 2009 center-right parties maximized the happiness of the 100th-98th richest percentile and center-left parties the 100th-95th richest percentile. The situation has evolved from the seventies when politicians represented, approximately, the median voter.

But it seems to me this hasn’t happened so much because capitalists are an evil bunch – or at least, not a particularly evil bunch.  Whilst my own experience of business in the language-services sector at the hands of the bigger fish should lead me to easily agree with the latter idea, I’m not inclined to do so any more: firstly, business, doing business, isn’t easy at all – whatever the size of your institution.  Unavoidable overheads and running costs, the vulnerability which social media and networks bring, just getting paid on time – and in time – affects and stresses us all.  (It also may lead many of us into sanctioning things a calmer moment or two wouldn’t allow.)  Secondly, whilst it’s true that big business has imposed its structure on representative democracy, it might also be true that representative democracy has played a part in doing exactly the same in the opposite direction.

The state, after all, is never a neutral concept.

In fact, I’d prefer to stop calling it “representative democracy”: prefer, much more, to call it “distanced democracy”.

In the same way as we often accuse the hierarchical agencies which rule large corporate bodies (not only big capitalist companies; also, smaller – supposedly charitable – institutions) of exhibiting highly removed behaviours from the daily hustle and bustle of down-at-the-bottom-of-the-pile workforces, so democracies which have operated through the variably good faith of professional politicians and other enablers of political activity have tended to become similarly ensconced in bubbles of unburstable self-belief.

Taking the whole #SamaritansRadar process as an example here: we clearly have an example of people at the top who have no clear idea of what they’re unleashing.  And this is probably because they are at the top: there’s no way anyone – even someone with immense dollops of the good faith I’ve already mentioned we all need more of – can possibly determine accurately what someone else, who spends their entire day-to-day existence working with the consequences of these “distanced” decision-making processes, already knows all too easily; already knows all too worryingly.

No.  I don’t think capitalism is the issue after all.  What’s in crisis ain’t a historically slippery economic “system”, which in truth is anything but a system as ideologues might understand it.  What’s in crisis is the relationship between its customers and itself: so much so that, foolishly, its biggest proponents, through secretive trade treaties various, are aiming to feather-bed their economic fears and desires in order not to have worry about overheads, late payment dates and evermore bolshie and nationalistic nation-states – looking, equally, as the latter are, to tie down future exploitation of land, sea, natural resource and multifarious property rights in almost everything, at the expense of the permanent and frantic control freakery these frontier-less capitalists manifest.

But then who can blame them?  (The capitalists, I mean.)  Wouldn’t you do the same, once (if) you managed to reach a certain critical mass?  Wouldn’t the roller-coaster of “grow or be destroyed” eventually force you down the route they all inevitably end up following?

This is why I’d suggest the solution isn’t to be found via reining in the capitalists – nor complaining, observing, suggesting or sustaining the idea that capitalism is broken.

The solution, for capitalism and democracy both, lies in the lessons of #SamaritansRadar: yes, people like myself, who don’t consider ourselves disabled, who don’t identify one-to-one with everything those with significant support needs rightly fight for … well, we can always choose to support a campaign, a movement, a direction on behalf of one party or another.  And that, to an extent, is good – of course it is.

But a real democracy, a democracy which is not “distanced”, a democracy which gets closer to the accuracy of persistent, timely complaint, is the kind of democracy where those who are directly and indiscriminately affected by oppressive behaviours have their own ability, tools and environments to allow them to continually shout the loudest, and be continually heard.  And just as this kind of what we might call “first-person democracy” will always guarantee the noise is maintained until it becomes unnecessary, so – in the same way – what the “distanced capitalism” I alluded to before needs in order that it may become irrelevant and out-of-date is a similarly close and faithful relationship between those who can exercise it as a tool of business and those – its customers, in fact – who have a daily, continuous and perpetual right to judge it: to judge it, to complain about it and to get their voices properly heard.

To judge persistently in first person with reliable data, evidence and conjecture … that is all our currently “distanced democracy” needs to become relevant once more to our needs; and that is all our “distanced capitalism” needs to become irrelevant to our preoccupations.

Nov 072014

The BBC reports the pulling of #SamaritansRadar in the following way:

An app made by the Samaritans that was supposed to detect when people on Twitter appeared to be suicidal has been pulled due to “serious” concerns.

The charity’s app was meant to use an algorithm to identify key words and phrases which indicated distress.

But in practice, some said the app made those with mental health issues feel more vulnerable.

It ends by saying, quite incorrectly (the bold is mine):

“We will also be testing a number of potential changes and adaptations to the app to make it as safe and effective as possible for both subscribers and their followers.”

Samaritans' declarations to the BBC

Incorrectly, because this should read “for both subscribers [ie the users of the app – those who choose to track vulnerable people’s tweets] and the people they follow [ie those whom the tech judges – inaccurately it would seem – to have suicidal impulses]”.

Now we could argue this was an example of lazy journalism – lazy because one of the biggest issues here is that the people tracked are the ones being followed, whilst the subscribers of the app remain entirely unknown in this hierarchy (more here).  However, it’s also just as likely – especially with the history of this saga to the fore – that the journalist in question has dutifully reported what they’ve been told.

And why likely?  Because the person quoted is the person who’s communicated (if that’s the word) the official position of Samaritans throughout the whole sorry fortnight or so: Joe Ferns.  And it’s really quite possible that he still hasn’t understood how idiotically unSamaritan-like is this baby of theirs: that is to say, he still hasn’t comprehended how wrong it is for a Western suicide-prevention charity to put in the hands of anonymous, possibly faceless, clearly unvetted, online strangers the care and protection of the most vulnerable in society.

Much more seriously than that, however, at least in the light of the attributed statement (a statement which only serves to confuse the real nature of the relationship between the two parties in the app), it may be the case that Joe Ferns still doesn’t realise that Samaritans’ traditional client-base gets followed and anonymously tracked by total online strangers.

So.  One of four: either the BBC misreported his words, he made a mistake, he told a hugely damaging and significantly revealing porkie or he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about.


Meanwhile, Samaritans have put out on the web a survey for interested parties to carry out.  These are the questions, interspersed with some observations on my part.

The first two questions are pretty generic, though one option does stand out to me for some weird reason: “To read other peoples’ tweets”.  In the context of an anti-suicide app, it almost looks like they want to draw our attention to the voyeuristic aspect of all social networks to justify, a posteriori, through the collation of the relevant answers, the app’s philosophy of encouraging anonymous watchers to chase after known watched.

Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey. Your feedback is really important to us.

This survey should take around 10-15 minutes to complete.

 1. How do you use Twitter? (answers ranging from “All the time” to “Never”)

To debate issues I am interested in with people I don’t know
To share information and news with like-minded people
To read other peoples’ tweets
To stay in touch with friends

Other (please specify)

2. Which of the following statements best describes you?

I am an expert Twitter user
I know my way around Twitter pretty well
I am still learning a lot about Twitter
I don’t know much about Twitter

The next questions address us as followed/tracked objects of the Radar app:

3. Has anyone reached out to you as a result of a Samaritans Radar alert?

I don’t know

4. Please tell us how you felt when this happened. (answers ranging from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree”)

I felt glad someone had reached out to me
I felt annoyed that someone had been alerted to my tweet
It didn’t really make a difference to how I was feeling
I felt better because someone had got in touch

Other (please specify)

Then, stuck in the middle like some conceptual sore thumb, we are suddenly addressed as “subscribers” (a Samaritans’ term) – that is to say, the real users of the app … the people with all that power over the vulnerable:

5. Have you activated Samaritans Radar?


6. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (ranging from “Strongly disagree” to “Strongly agree”)

I don’t agree with Radar because I question the ethics
I don’t want to be alerted to people on twitter who are feeling bad
I don’t agree with Radar because the risk that it’s used by people intending harm outweighs any benefits
Even though tweets are public doesn’t mean they should be monitored in this way
It’s not something that interests me
I hadn’t heard of Radar before now
I don’t agree with Radar because I question its legality
I wouldn’t like Radar to monitor my tweets
The people I follow on twitter are not my friends so I wouldn’t reach out to them
I wouldn’t know what to do about an alert
I don’t think it will help people
I wasn’t interested enough to activate Radar

Other (please specify)

Yet again, we swerve back to being addressed once more as potential subscribers/users:

7. Would you consider activating Radar in the future?

Yes, if some changes were made
Not sure
Are there any specific changes you would like to see?

Here it’s very unclear if we are subscribers/users or those who should be followed:

8. Please tell us what you think is the best thing about Radar:

9. Please tell us what you think is the worst thing about Radar:

Whilst this next question makes it entirely unclear from what point of view we are supposed to perceive the wretched beast:

10. Which of the following best describes how you feel about potential improvement or future development of Radar?

I think Radar is great as it is, don’t change anything
I think Radar could be improved with some redevelopment based on feedback
I would prefer it if Radar was shut down
Other (please specify)

The next questions do all the proper, basic and fundamentally correct stuff the app simply neglected ever to contemplate:

The following questions will help us understand your answers better. They are optional.

11. What is your age?

12. What is your gender?

Prefer not to say

Just to underline, questions 13, 14 and 15 are about as reasonably sensitive in their exploration of what we could call wider peer-to-peer rights to define identity as they could be – rights the app simply decided to trample under its heavy virtual foot:

13. Do you consider yourself to be disabled?

Prefer not to say

14. Do you consider yourself to have a mental health problem?

Prefer not to say

15. What is your sexual orientation?

Gay woman/lesbian
Gay man
Prefer not to say

Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey, your feedback is really important to us. 

If you have any questions about this survey or Samaritans Radar please email

16. If you are happy for us to contact you to discuss your feedback further please provide us your email address. You do not need to give us your name.

As you can probably see, all I can see is a continuation of the confusion of concept which has reigned from the very beginning.  Now I’m normally quite a reasonable soul, and tend to give most people for quite a long time the benefit of the doubt most of us deserve – but the doubt, here, is growing so grand that I really do feel there’s no benefit left to offer up.

The question needs to be answered: does the Samaritans’ leadership actually know it’s created an app where totally unvetted strangers can anonymously track vulnerable people?  If it does:

  1. why did the BBC report it so differently;
  2. why did Joe Ferns appear to muddy already murky waters so radically;
  3. and why did Samaritans decide to create an online survey which – far from clarifying functionality, positions and relationships – only manages to make things even more darkly uncertain?

Nov 072014

Yesterday, I got cross because we simultaneously have a government driving the policy of “Digital by Default” (citizens must generally access government services and obligations via the Internet and web) and, at the same time, security services warning us repeatedly how dangerous online environments are becoming.  When police heads bandy the words “terrorists”, “jihadis” and “paedophiles” around, you get the impression someone is in possession of something quite fearful.  Yet, in the meantime, another part of government can’t help wrapping it up in the paper of a virtual Christmas.

It seems a huge contradiction: on the one hand, government says “Look at this shiny cost-cutting toy, free and open as it is”; on the other hand, government says “This shiny cost-cutting toy, unregulated as it is, lets criminals destroy lives”.

Today, then, I read a Guardian article which quite glowingly presents (and perhaps quite rightly) a new government identity initiative: it’s called Gov.UK Verify, and it allows us to hope we may be able to achieve the Nirvana of a non-centralised identity defining and confirmation system, already about to get going whilst few have been looking.  This would of course, if true, make life a lot safer on the Interwebs.  However, whilst the Guardian indicates it’s the result of a constructively collaborative approach, I’d still like to go over my history of reservations with this idea that an identity “card” system must be put in place in the way I feel it’s happening:

  1. without clear parliamentary debate
  2. without overt societal debate
  3. without a clear practical involvement in commissioning and design from the wider population who’ll be using it
  4. and most significantly, without a clear separation between public and private spheres – both technically speaking as well as philosophically

1. As often happens with tech, parliamentary spaces and procedures are often the last parts of society to find out about these things.  And once in place, with the prejudices of those who drive them, it’s often impossible to contemplate changing any of these technologies.  In essence, we make law behind the closed doors of development environments instead of doing so in the – even now – relatively democratic openness of the Houses of Parliament.

2. As often happens with tech, ordinary people simply don’t understand the implications of certain steps taken on their behalf.  New tech brings about new possibilities – but the elites which always re-establish themselves will know best how to re-game the systems.  We only have to see the historical implications of moving everything we do online, only for the worldwide web which connects us to become the worldwide web which entraps us.

3. Yes, the Guardian article suggests it’s been trialled and reworked with the help of thousands of Britons (how patriotic that sounds!), but whilst quite a considerable sample, I’d really rather be more interested in finding out how it was chosen.  We all know, if we’ve bumped into any psychological studies at all, how the make-up of a population under study can determine the outcomes – and conclusions, justifiably reachable – quite profoundly.

4. But it’s the last point I’m really most worried about: using mobile phones as part of a reworked ID “card” system, however much we’ve done it in good faith (and it would truly appear, if all goes to plan, that this is one legacy the Coalition will one day be able to be proud of), is nothing more nor less than a partial privatisation of identity.  Personally, I wouldn’t trust my mobile phone farther than I could drop it in a puddle of water.  Not because I don’t think the tech can’t be made robust enough: more to the point, because it’s in private hands – the very private hands who help governments design virtual ID “cards” behind the backs of voters, their elected representatives and a broader populace out there.

So.  If you can resolve especially point 4, you might find I’m onboard – even after having become progressively more hysterical over the years.  But if the system is to depend on a private phone contract with a private provider, cohabiting on the same device with a multitude of data-greedy apps … well then sorry – maybe out of ignorance too – I really don’t like the concept at all and will find myself, quite sadly, having to reject it outright.


Further reading: me, becoming progressively more hysterical about the possibility of virtual ID “cards” via the backdoor:

  1. Identity “cards” coming to the UK via the backdoor.
  2. Privatisation – the real issue for UK ID “cards”.
  3. The big Home Office plan (very hysterical!!!).

Nov 062014

This is an interesting story, headlined by the Standard in the following way just now:

Met chief Hogan-Howe: Internet is a haven for murderers, jihadis and paedophiles

Meanwhile, just four years ago, we had Francis Maude selling us the apparently cuddly benefits of entering this haven – only, we did so from nice libraries and in front of friendly fellow citizens:

Perhaps they were all actually secret murderers, jihadis and paedophiles.  Just no one told us.

Or maybe it wasn’t such a haven four years ago – and has only become so recently?

Or maybe it isn’t actually the haven it’s painted – and there’s some other agenda being propagated?

Either/any way, somebody’s being irresponsible.

Either somebody’s currently exaggerating the risks the Interwebs pose to us – or somebody, four years ago, criminally misinformed Francis Maude.

I mean really, in such a suave way, would you happily recommend to your elderly mother or father that they enter a playground of the worst kinds of criminals?

Myself, if government (or someone) can’t make the blessed creature safe enough so that we can dip our toes into it without GCHQ or the Met having to breathe down our necks, I think we’d all better give it up as a bad job – and, presumably, proceed to sensibly flee.

Don’t you think so?

(Alternatively, the thought does come to me – perhaps a little in bad faith – that the government’s actually quite comfortable with the idea of being able to breathe down not only paedophiles’ necks but also the quite law-abiding necks of the rest of us.

Whatever.  Just in case.  You know?)

Nov 052014

I once wrote a piece on the back of an article written by a writer I admire very much for writerly reasons.  His name is Fraser Nelson.  (His politics is quite a different matter, but then I suppose he wouldn’t like mine either.)  Anyhow.  You can find my piece here.  It quotes extensively from his.  Apologies in advance if he stumbles across it again today (on the other hand, he writes so well, it’s also quoted out of literary admiration).

In it he suggests the following:

We saw this yesterday, when Iain Duncan Smith trailed a speech about welfare and poverty. A now familiar welcoming committee rose up early to greet him. The Child Poverty Action Group declared that there are no jobs to be had, so why punish those on welfare? A revered charity, Save the Children, has identified government cuts as a major threat to British children. Even the National Society for the Protection of Children warns that the “most vulnerable” children are “bearing the brunt” of Cameron’s cuts. And hearing them all, who would your average listener believe: a politician, or charity worker?

But these charities are not the kindly tin-rattlers they were. In 2008, Brown changed the rules so charities could join political campaigns. In theory, they could support any party – but as Brown knew, not many would use these powers to demand smaller taxes. It was a masterstroke. The charities sharpened their claws by hiring former Labour apparatchiks. Save the Children is now run by Justin Forsyth, Brown’s ex-strategy chief. The NSPCC has hired Peter Watt, a former Labour general secretary. Damian McBride is working for Cafod. Britain’s charities are nurturing a colourful, talented and efficient anti-Tory alliance.

That is to say, the Yesterday Man everyone on the Right argues Gordon Brown soon became had actually stuffed charitable organisations with the aforementioned “Labour apparatchiks”, so creating a kind of rearguard action – Brown’s Secret Army, a Fifth Column of the supposedly vanquished – capable, even after 2010, after political ignominy and virtual banishment, of sabotaging the good democratic works of Cameron & Co.

Indeed, what did all the above represent if not the Machiavellian masterstrokes various of a political subterfuge … quite politically beyond the pale?  How dare he, for goodness sake!  How dare he even dare!

I bring this up today for one very good reason.

I followed a train of thought on Twitter this evening which led me to wonder the following (in the light of course of #SamaritansRadar):

You know when they said charities were the Left’s Fifth Column? It doesn’t half seem that some are now pure disciples of Coalition spin.

I say this with respect to the intensity Samaritans are showing in their defence of the indefensible: that is to say, their remaking of an online community such as Twitter so that self-identity is trashed/at the very least ignored, whilst at the same time they pursue process which assigns an algorithmically defined externally sanctioned/maybe even institutionally permissible identity to those their invention tracks; their creation of a more equal/less equal hierarchy of such identities (for example, as app “subscriber”, I am allowed to keep private the fact I track the vulnerable; the vulnerable, however, aren’t even allowed to know my Twitter handle, never mind my face); their use, “going forward”, of a persistently dreadful management-speak (re the latter concept, a terrifying example of a generic nature here); their promise to dialogue, without a visible dialogue to be seen absolutely anywhere; and, most significantly, whilst claiming to want to help people to help themselves, putting all those the app tracks in a position of awful dependency on the good faith and will of anonymous third parties they may never meet.

Again, as I tweeted earlier in the day:

@Jane_Samuels It feels almost as if someone somewhere took the view that empowering those with mental health issues was societally risky. >>

@Jane_Samuels << That such empowerment had to be reassertingly reduced by mediating key support mechanisms thru’ third parties.

So how is it that one of the most empowering and supportive charities in the world has fallen to forcing onto its client-base a dependency on anonymous online strangers to such an extent?  Where is the empowering philosophy and sensation of prior times that the first step to avoiding suicide is in making that important step to ask for help yourself?

Doesn’t all of this remind you of Cameron & Co’s own blessed political discourse?  You know the one.  The one that blames the poor for being too dependent on the state; the one that claims all the poor need is a brisk few years of healthy austerity; the one that through such austerity creates perfect conditions for a dependent society – but only at the top of what we might term the pyramid of wealth.  And the one which, finally, makes the poor evermore dependent on holding down miserably paid jobs – in order not to make those proverbial ends meet in impossibly vicious circle.

Yes.  Samaritans now argue, through this app, that its traditional client-base must capitulate to a very different type of society from before.  Where before we acted proactively to use all the interventionist tools we could in order to achieve the singular goal of making vulnerable people independent, we now do all we can – without, what’s more, taking bloody ownership at all – to make these vulnerable objects of our voyeuristic tendencies captive to mystical, non-human, entirely blameless algorithms.  No one’s the data controller; no one’s the initiator of identity-definition processes; automatically, machines determine how best to turn human beings into simulacrums of themselves; and in all of this the hands of those who commissioned, designed, implemented and launched become entirely invisible – irrelevant – to the debate.

If you look at it like this, then, the Coalition discourse has been swallowed whole by Samaritans, by what’s now clearly its rebranding process and by the future it sees for itself.

#SamaritansRadar?  Not necessarily.  Stuffed now with the walking, talking, shushing, ignoring mindsets of almost five years of Coalition theory and practice, this is Cameron’s Radar; Cameron’s Secret Army; Cameron’s Fifth Column we see.

A subterfuge to landgrab terrain and perpetuate ideologies, whether eventually in power or not, way beyond the the next general election.

And in very much the same way as Fraser Nelson accused Gordon Brown of doing before 2010.

Is it not inconceivable that Cameron & Co, having interpreted the reality thus, mightn’t try and do exactly the same with their own glorious set of charitable namesakes?

A couple of days ago, the Guardian published a piece saying there’d be plenty more #SamaritanRadar apps, as charities moved to refine their actions on the basis of “big data” philosophies.  I think the writer presumed this was from a technical point of view.

This evening, I’m not sure it won’t more importantly be from an ideologically technical one.


Update to this post, 6th November 2014: some further reading.  Firstly, the link to the Guardian story mentioned above on future charity apps as they become the norm rather than the dreadful exception.  Secondly, a beautifully restorative, measured and inspiring story from someone who works as a Samaritans’ volunteer, is perplexed as to how Radar got off the ground in the first place and continues to believe firmly in the founding principles of the organisation they work on behalf of.

Nov 052014

Can’t get my head round it.  Still.  And I’m breaking the promise I made in my last post.  But it’s the breathtaking PR-ridden complacency I read here which makes me so cross with the society we’ve clearly forged together.  At the time of my writing this post, the latest update is 4th November 2014.  It’s all so wrong in so many ways that I don’t – really don’t – know how to separate out all the threads.  But here goes anyway.

This is so even my mother and father – BBC viewers and listeners of the mainstream – might understand what’s assailing our Twitterverse at the moment.

A charity called Samaritans – specialising in supporting people with suicidal impulses, in particular when the people in question courageously choose to take that difficult step of  reaching out and asking for help – has commissioned, designed, implemented and launched a Twitter application called #SamaritansRadar which, amongst other interested parties, allows perfect and often completely anonymous strangers to sign up for emails distributed by a US-located email service and generated by the app itself as it trawls a vulnerable person’s Twitter content – emails which serve to supposedly notify the so-called “subscribers” of the program (Samaritans’ term not mine) whenever one of the aforementioned vulnerable people is feeling at their most vulnerable.

The complacent PR churning out of Samaritans right now just adds a bizarre insult to grave injury.

For example, misplaced triumphalism:

  • The App has had a positive response so far, with over 3,000 people signed up as subscribers to date. Since launch, almost 20,000 people have mentioned the App, helping #samaritansradar trend on Twitter for two days. We will take on board any feedback we receive as we develop the App further and are taking very seriously the concerns raised by some Twitter users regarding possible data protection and privacy issues relating to the Application.

For example, careful legalese (love the “going forward” at the end):

  • Samaritans Radar has been in development for over a year and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, as have academic experts on suicide through their research. In developing the App we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken, including an impact assessment against data protection and data processing principles.
  • We are looking into the details of the issues raised, including working with the relevant regulatory authorities and will continue to take action as needed to address these concerns appropriately going forward.

And here more of the same, with weasel words such as “believe” and “likely”:

  • We have taken the time to seek further legal advice on the issues raised. Our continuing view is that Samaritans Radar is compliant with the relevant data protection legislation for the following reasons:

    o We believe that Samaritans are neither the data controller or data processor of the information passing through the app

    o All information identified by the app is available on Twitter, in accordance with Twitter’s Ts&Cs (link here). The app does not process private tweets.

    o If Samaritans were deemed to be a data controller, given that vital interests are at stake, exemptions from data protection law are likely to apply

Finally, a frankly astonishing misunderstanding of its own history and mission:

  • […] We would like to reassure subscribers [ie the potentially random anonymous people who sign up to follow the Twitter folk who are supposed to be the real reason for Samaritans’ existence] that we will, of course, continue to apply this approach and are in discussions with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and will take on board any direction they give us.

No mention of the interests, then, of the people whom subscribers follow, via that American third-party email distributor – and Lord only knows which org might be considered the real data controllers of all that juicy, compromising and quite possibly inaccurate data, regularly spat out of Twitter.

No desire, either, to reassure the traditional client-base of Samaritans: you know, the ones who expect to decide when to make that first contact; how to make that first contact; and how to do so anonymously if necessary.  That client-base who believed they were taking a first key step to taking control of their lives once again.

Nope.  Samaritans is far more worried about its new client-base: government in general, the Department of Health in particular, other possibly murky interests floating around there; more or less, a confused combination of otherwise quite possibly coherent objectives – objectives which if they had not been mixed together might have all been able to see the light of a much more positive day.

But far more importantly than all the above is the managerialist client-base now consummating its takeover of the charity.  When a listening org’s leadership forgets how to listen – even to the doubts its own internal whisperers must have – then something very wrong has taken place.

Have any of you heard a single public pronouncement from a Samaritans’ volunteer on this matter?  You know, the people who help the people with the courage to reach out and say: “Yes, I need help.”

I certainly haven’t – and I haven’t exactly been ignoring the flood of info.  This charity is more impervious to a breaking of the ranks than a financial services company.  What rod of PR-iron have they imposed on the work- and volunteer-force for the only visible responses to be from dear old Joe Ferns?  What atmosphere of polite and genteel fear must they all be labouring under?

Only out of complacent, smug, yes-people environments do you get complacent, smug, yes-people tech like this.

Only out of too much time long spent with other like-minded people do you get smoothly inappropriate and confident PR like the PR we’ve seen.

The problem isn’t the app at all: the problem is the environment which engendered it.  And I’d even be inclined to wonder: is this app’s process – its commissioning, design, implementation and launching – symptomatic itself of an organisation-wide cry for help in the making?

You know, I’d hazard a guess that the sickest element of Samaritans lies nowhere near its client-base at all.

A thought we must leave for another day of miserable misunderstanding.

Nov 032014

Let’s have a look at this interesting word:

discriminate (third-person singular simple present discriminates, present participle discriminating, simple past and past participle discriminated)

  1. (intransitive) To make distinctions.
    Since he was colorblind he was unable to discriminate between the blue and green bottles.
  2. (intransitive, construed with against) To make decisions based on prejudice.
    The law prohibits discriminating against people based on their skin color.
  3. (transitive) To set apart as being different; to mark as different; to separate from another by discerning differences; to distinguish.

So.  With reference to the question in the title of today’s post, the #SamaritansRadar app does probably discriminate, at least between relatively broad brush-strokes of people.  That is to say, it distinguishes.  However, another question sits up there in the stratosphere of techie progress.  Raised by Asher Wolf on Twitter just now, we were asked to ponder whether the app in question contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In particular, Article 12:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

In the meantime, I had a bit of dig around and came up with the information in this tweet:

Does harassment:


tie #SamaritansRadar into the UN Disability Convention (eg Art. 3b)?

In the first link, we are told:

2. How you can be discriminated against

One method being:

  • harassment – unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them

In the second link, we are told:

United Nations (UN) Convention on disability rights

The UN Convention on disability rights has been agreed by the UK to protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

And the aforementioned Article 3b of this Convention says, in its General principles (the bold below is mine):

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;
b) Non-discrimination;
c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;
e) Equality of opportunity;
f) Accessibility;
g) Equality between men and women;
h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

This, then, is the the trail of breadcrumbs:

  1. an app which nominally aims to save people from suicidal instincts allows third parties to easily track the people in question, assigning an automatically generated label to the tweets thus tracked
  2. uproar ensues, for various terribly confusing reasons, but what’s absolutely clear is that Samaritans’ professionally employed management finds itself incapable of conversing with and listening to its client-base, even as its volunteer-force has made a point of doing so for decades
  3. people (at least on Twitter) begin to realise this app is about as sophisticated as a punch in the solar plexus, and so begin to question not only the competence of the organisation but also its good faith
  4. there is now the suggestion on the table that the app contravenes not only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – in particular Article 3b, an article and broader convention to which the British government explicitly subscribes
  5. what’s more, those with far more technical and coalface nous than myself suggest that they’ll shortly be seeing Samaritans in court.

Mainly, that is, on the basis that Samaritans’ professionally employed management looked to commission a software app which would allegedly discriminate (in the sense of distinguish), on the one hand, between tweets which were throwaway lines of banter and, on the other, tweets which indicated someone was aiming to throw away their lives.  Automatically; algorithmically; without the kind of sensibly sensitive, supportively human, agency that Samaritans has always been famous for.

Except that it doesn’t look very likely it’s going to be able to comply with this remit.

Just to get a handle on how people with mental health support needs may feel right now, let’s carry out the following thought experiment.

Let’s imagine, if you will, that someone invented an evil app not altogether dissimilar to Radar.  Like Radar, it tracked what people said.  Like a (maybe) future update to Radar, it included location data in its flagging-up to its users.  Like a (maybe) up-and-coming roll-out for Radar (let’s say, oh, five years five months down the line), it enabled the feature of listening in to the voice conversations of the cellphone of the object of its tracking, with the justification that no one has a right to privacy when safety and security must trump all.  And like Radar, it put the power in the hands not of the object of its beady virtual eye but in the subject of its activation.

Except here, the evil app that I describe above … well, it was designed specifically to allow parents to keep tabs on their children.

Creepy, hey?  You bet.  Even more so when you think how it could easily be used by potential paedophiles to follow the very same sons and daughters all us responsible parents were looking to protect.

So you find the idea repulsive, do you?  As you should.  Of course.  So do I.

Just think, then, from the point of view of all those online people with mental health issues and support needs various out there, how they currently feel about Samaritans’ “targeting” of them.

If you wouldn’t want a paedophile to be able to turn a tracking app designed for conscientious parents against the very vulnerable young people it was naively designed to defend, why should any citizen in the UK distinguish/discriminate between types of vulnerability as they reject the mentally wealthy’s opinions on a matter which so clearly and directly affects them?

For if it’s wrong to unleash an app which could be turned against our treasured children, it’s equally criminal to do so against any co-citizens of this nation.

And if you don’t find it easy to agree with me on this, you discriminate … without distinguishing yourself in the least.