Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Germany: Memories of a nation exhibition at the British Museum – Part 1

GermanyNaturally, this exhibition displays an authentic VW Beetle; though you do not need to pay the £10 admission fee to see it. It merely entices visitors in.

First, let me say that I went with my German partner. Her endorsement of the exhibition is praise indeed, knowing all too well that the English, particularly, focus on the country’s Nazi past. This exhibition has something else important to say about the German Nation’s history.

Okay, now to a few quibbles. First, normally I expect to be able to take photographs in an exhibition, not least to upload to this blog. But,book here, photography is not allowed. And it is enforced. One assumes this is to protect the value of the accompanying products that one can buy in the shop including Neil MacGregor’s thick tome (right).

Second, the British Museum is huge. For some reason, the powers that be at the Museum have located this exhibition in, what amounts to, a cupboard. The space is far too small not only for the numbers of visitors, but also the exhibits themselves. And for some inexplicable reason, the British Museum does not seem to have learned too much about exhibiting.

For example, in the years of German hyperinflation, German towns produced their own currencies -they being as valuable as the national currency. Such is the nature of hyperinflation. The towns printed their own bank notes. They were often colourfully printed with very particular designs. In essence, they demanded a very close scrutiny. But the museum has made it virtually impossible to scrutinise these artefacts. They are locked in a glass case set against a wall. They are three or four abreast. Unless one is 2 metres tall, inspecting the detail is impossible.

Strasbourg_clockAnd even those artefacts that are not in glass cases (most seem to be), they are not exhibited at the height that best suits most of us. Take, for example, the exquisite Strasbourg Clock (left). This image features Neil MacGregor, the boss of the British Museum and the author of the book and presenter of the 30-part BBC radio series accompanying the exhibition. The clock enjoys amazing detail in terms of figures and engravings over-and-above the feat of timekeeping technology that makes it work. And rest assured, it is amazing. But actually, I saw more of it on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028bdxq) than I did at the exhibition. I’m just not tall enough.

 

 

Landing on a comet

Philae lander lander seen from RosettaThe European Space Agency has, in the last 10 minutes, landed a probe (left) on the surface of a comet for the first time. This is important as it may help explain the origins of life on Earth as comets were there at the formation of the solar system. Notwithstanding the technical feat associated with achieving a landing on a rocky object travelling at 18km/s and is 510 million kilometers away (it takes over 30 minutes to get a signal back to Earth from the craft).

There is a real UK political dimension to this captured brilliantly in a tweet:

Justifying the unjustifiable

Theresa_MayThe UK Conservatives now argue that too many people – cast out on to the Mediterranean Sea in unsuitable boats by unscrupulous traffickers – have been saved by benevolent Europeans. So much so that it generates an incentive for more people to try it, safe in the knowledge that they will be rescued when the vessel capsizes.

Even if this were true – and no hard evidence to my knowledge has been presented to back it up – it is immoral. Knowingly ignoring victims of traffickers, fleeing from wars, economic crises and penuary caused largely by us is criminal.

And again, leading the way is the Home Secretary, Theresa May (above left). I used to think that these illiberal and racist policies were a response to UKIP. Now, however, I sense that UKIP is merely an excuse. The Conservatives really do believe in these policies.

Privacy and the Internet

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireThe new boss of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, this week wrote a much-reported article in the Financial Times arguing that in order to stay safe we must give up our [right to] privacy. We must accept blanket surveillance of our online communications. He is frustrated that the large US tech firms that dominate the social media world are uncooperative. Consequently they are the ‘command and control networks of choice’ of international terrorists and paedophiles.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Here is a man whose job it is to do communication surveillance. In recent years – and certainly since Snowden – its legitimacy has been questioned. We may have asked, ‘in whose interests is this surveillance’? And if it is for us – citizens – then how would we know? We are never given the data that would tell us how effective it is in preventing attacks or the abuse of children.

Now, Mr Hannigan (right) has asserted that all of CGHQ’s surveillance is undertaken to protect us against attack from whomever orhannigan whatever. Again, there is no evidence that surveillance protects us, but the security services remain powerful arms of the state. The more surveillance they do, the more money they get. The more they convince us that only more surveillance can protect us – and we believe it – the more resources they will command and the less free we will be. And bearing in mind they tell us that surveillance is needed to keep us free, one wonders what kind of freedom they have in mind.

Naturally, the ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ argument still resonates. But as Martha Lane Fox – one time government-appointed Tsar for digital inclusion and founder of lastminute.com - and anything but a crazy libertarian - said through a number of new and old media yesterday, “I would not want GCHQ to come and rummage in my front room and that is how I feel about whatever device I am using”. Moreover, the security services already have significant powers to investigate communication, not least through DRIP which a subservient UK Parliament rushed into law before the summer recess in 2014. Again, at the behest of the security services.

But what these people really dislike is the idea that ordinary people can encrypt their own communication. On the whole, our communication is unencrypted. The devices that we use are easily accessible to outside forces (with a few exceptions, notably Blackberry handsets). When we download an app we invariable sign away privacy in order to use it. But I do feel that I – and others – have a right to privacy and that the security services have enough power already to investigate any wrongdoing on my part. But they do need, first, to have sufficient evidence to get the warrant to invade my privacy. They are not the rights holders. We are.

Picture: GCHQ – MoD; Robert Hannigan – gov.uk

Rochester by-election – UKIP and neo fascists, Britain First, stand together

britain-first-ukip1The Rochester and Strood by-election was caused by the resignation of the incumbent Conservative, Mark Reckless, as a result of his defection to UKIP. The by-election is an opportunity for any number of disgruntled people to stand for election. By-elections – particularly towards the end of a parliamentary period – often throw up surprises. Probably not enough to elect Britain First’s candidate, Jayda Fransen. Never mind, she seems quite friendly with UKIPers if this happy photo is anything to go by. Might they have much in common?

Picture: Britain First website

UKIP and health tourists

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party said, in the aftermath of his party’s victory in the Clacton bi-election (remind me not to go there), that we should prevent people with HIV (as a proxy for all people with an illness) from coming to the country. Clearly they will make a huge call on the NHS and we should exclude them.

I find these opinions reprehensible. However, I found it ironic that on the very same day (10 October 2014), the Nobel Peace Prize was Malala_Yousafzai_at_Girl_Summit_2014awarded to Malala Yousafzai, the young woman who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for standing up for her right to an education. After her condition stabilised she came to the UK for specialist treatment in Birmingham (and where eventually she continued her education). Now I do not know if she had private health insurance…

Picture: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development/Wikipedia

Post holiday blues in record time – European Convention on Human Rights

It does not take long for an awful reality to reassert itself after the summer tandem riding holiday, even if it was un-summerly and not everyone’s idea of a holiday. For example, what on earth happened in Scotland? Why did the Scots vote to stay dependent on the English elite establishment, fronted by David Cameron. One wonders whether the result would have been different had the Tory Party conference occurred before the vote rather than after it.

Conservatives_UK-logo-9It was, of course, at that conference that Chris Grayling, the UK (in)Justice Secretary, announced that should the Tories win outright the next UK election, they will knowingly take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights so as to free the country from those pesky European judges who so often tell us to do things that we do not want to do, such as give votes to prisoners, allow foreign criminals into the country, prevent the extradition of undesirables (especially those with hooks as substitutes for hands) and a ban whole-life sentences for grave crimes. It does, of course, none of these things; the Strasbourg Court merely highlights incompatibilities between UK law and the Convention. See: http://www.tinyurl.com/pszhdky

But instead, we will have a UK Bill of Rights, subject to the whim of the Tory elite to decide whether any citizen’s claimsTheresa_May of a breach of human rights is valid or not. Not independent judges, but the likes of Grayling himself. Moreover, this elite used their conference to inform us that we have to allow ourselves to be subjugated, monitored and pacified to maintain security against the threat of terrorists that the elite has created for us through innumerable foreign wars, murder, incarceration and expropriation. The Home Secretary, Theresa May (right), told the conference that the ‘snoopers’ charter’ will be reintroduced to Parliament and passed when there is a Tory majority; but of course one has nothing to fear if one has nothing to hide.

The European Convention is not an EU institution, however. The Convention was scripted by European human rights lawyers, many of them British, in the early 1950s in the aftermath of WWII. To withdraw is to align ourselves with some of the least liberal states in the world; for example, Belarus.

European_Court_of_Human_RightsSuch a move will precipitate a response from the Council of Europe – which is an EU institution. Ultimately, adherence to the Convention is a reasonable condition for membership of the European Union, if not the United Nations. Of course, getting out of the EU is precisely what Tories want and these arguments play well with their illiberal supporters. It is always gratifying to hear that the Prime Minister is generously giving our European partners one more chance to see sense and allow the UK to contravene the founding treaties that enshrine the concept of the free movement of people across European borders. A right that millions of UK citizens have exploited over the years.

Pictures:

Theresa May: ukhomeoffice,Wikipedia

European Court Strasbourg: CherryX, Wikipedia

Wasted time

I regret the time that I have wasted in my life. Time that I could have used productively. But did not. Sitting on the train yesterday, as I often do, heading to my workplace (one hour), I glanced around and saw maybe two-thirds of the people on the train engaged in no activity other than looking around or out of the window. Immediately opposite me was a boy about 12 years’ old, I presumed with his mother. Both were, how I would describe, under-stimulated. I remember being that boy.

Class171Each Class 171 train has 124 seats. The train was full for the whole journey. For sections of the journey, there were people standing. So let us say there were 150 people on the train. If two-thirds were under-stimulated, that means 100 people. That is 6000 minutes going spare, 100 hours.

What could I do with 100 hours? I know that they are not mine to claim. I also realise that it is not for me to tell people what is good for them. However, I wonder whether this issue is not what is good for the individual, but rather society. Not using time productively, arguably, is anti-social?

The obvious activity for this sort of available time is reading. The boy in front of me had no visible reading material with him. He sat there patiently, commenting periodically to his mother about something that he had seen out of the window. I remember being that boy.

When I talk about society benefitting from those lost hours, I do so against the backdrop of what seems to be an almost  global breakdown in2014-07-31 14.02.02 human reason. The situation in Gaza, for example. It troubles me not least because the mis-information is so completely assimilated by our news organisations. It takes a bit of decoding when one is aware of it, let alone when reporting seems ‘balanced’. We are many of us under-informed (I include myself very much in this). Rectifying that would strike me as a good use for those 100 hours.

Picture of Class171: Mackensen

Gaza situation

Gaza_devastationToday there is a 12 hour ceasefire in Gaza. It is safe, briefly, to enter outside, survey the damage to the infrastructure, reclaim a few possessions, whilst the Israel Offence Force watches over.

The scene on the left is the devastation meted out to the Gazan neighbourhood of Shijaiyah (picture sourced from Media Lens) in the name of ‘right of self-defence’. Proportionate? By contrast, the image, right (from the Israel Defence Force). This was the damage to an apartment block in the Israeli town of Ashkelon from a Palestinian rocket. Proportionate? Proportionality is a bit of a red herring. The issue is the siege of Gaza and Israeli settlements.Ashkelon_damage

It is time for Obama to get on his plane and tell Netanyahu that he is on his way to the to the ICC in the Hague.

It is also time that the media get their reporting proportionate. Too much sourcing from Gaza_babyofficial Israeli authorities. Too many platforms given to the likes of Mark Regev (http://t.co/mNkP57gpKf). Too easy. Lazy. If you do have the mis-fortune to sit through Israeli propaganda, decode with this guide: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP)

DRIPThis piece of legislation, pushed through the UK Parliament in 3 days, is wrong in so many respects. Enacted to protect innocent people against terrorists and paedophiles (nice juxtaposition) and supported unconditionally by all three main parties in the Parliament, including the Labour Party, unforgivably.

In this country the police can now demand from suppliers of internet services and mobile phone network operators details of all of my transactions. The police will legally be able to access details of my searches, sites visited and my emails – and all those with whom I engage. They have access to the duration of my visits, conversations, times of those conversations and my location.

So often, one is confronted by the trite response from politicians that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing to fear. One has everything to fear. I am no libertarian, but the state has no right to enter my private space, and that includes my email inbox. I know now that if I, or any others, seek to become a whistleblower against corrupt public or private organisations, including the police, they will be able to find us.

The Open Rights Group is challenging the legislation. They say: “The European Convention of Human Rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and our own Human Rights Act – all exist to defend are rights and are where we will be able to challenge DRIP.” They intend to challenge the legality of the legislation in the European Court of Justice. The UK remains a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights for the time being. The Conservative Government is currently composing legislation to undermine its authority over UK legislation – a move that is thought to precipitate the UK’s withdrawal. In Europe, the only non-members are Ukraine and Russia.

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