Thursday, December 08, 2016

The UK descends into dystopia...

Originally, I intended to record this as my first ever vlog; but a combination of bad lighting (last week) and an annoying cold (this week) put paid to that idea so I decided to simply rework the text for my blog...

Now, if you're reading this in the UK then - congratulations - your Internet Service Provider is now recording the fact that you have visited Blogger, and how long you stayed here, and they will be holding onto that data for the next year. Not only that, but there are 48 different governmental bodies that can now freely access the records of your internet data.


And what's even better, those 48 governmental bodies can do so without even requiring a warrant.

Now, if you're wondering how it is that the UK has managed to catch up on 32 years of missed time and drag us all into a digital version of Orwell's 1984, then you perhaps missed the fact that last Tuesday, after having been passed by the House of Lords in November, Royal Assent was given to the Investigatory Powers Bill - also known as the Snoopers Charter - making it law.

This was a bill heralded by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, as a "security nightmare".

Edward Snowden - who let's not forget worked for the NSA, hardly an agency known for its snowy white morals - described it as "THE most extreme surveillance in the history of Western democracy".

So, obviously, with a bill of such importance, the day after the House of Lords had passed it the papers were absolutely awash with news on it.

The Sun led with '3 Lions Team in 4am Bender'

The Daily Mail wondered 'What is going on in our jails?'

And the Daily Star brought us the earth shattering news that Danny Baker thought that Paul Gascoigne could win I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!...that's if he were to actually enter it...

Yes, that is correct, absolutely ZERO coverage in the popular press.

Every man, woman, and child in the entire country is going to have their internet habits catalogued and searchable by any one of 48 different government bodies and yet the press hardly made a peep.

And if you're wondering exactly WHO has the power to find out all about your internet habits - how long you spend on Facebook and Netflix, the news sites you visit, the porn sites you visit...

...although the Digital Economy Bill - passed in the House of Parliament last Thursday - is trying its best to cut out such smutty behaviour among Britons by forcing them to submit to a new age verification checking system and the attitudes of the UK's current government towards porn is perhaps expressed by the Culture Minister, Matt Hancock who said:

"I appreciate that for those who really want to access porn online then if they are really intent on doing that then there is a big challenge in stopping that.

In stopping that.

It's like the Conservatives won't be happy until we're on a one way trip back to Victorian prudishness.

But I digress.

Who gets to see all this? Who gets permission to dig through our (potentially dirty) digital laundry?

Well, obviously the police. And the Ministry of Defence. And the Secret Intelligence Service. And GCHQ (although, according to Snowden they didn't exactly bother waiting for permission). Oh, and the Home Office.

Because - let us not forget - this is all being done to protect us from terrorists.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was clear that "The internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge."

Which is obviously why the Food Standards Agency is one of those 48 bodies.

Wait, what?

Why on Earth would the Food Standards Agency need to access people's internet records??

"The Food Standards Agency is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK"

Food Standards Agency. Terrorism.

So clearly connected.

And the Food Standards Agency is just one of many nonsensical agencies on the list. Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service? Check! Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Services Board? Check! Welsh Ambulance Services National Health Service Trust? Also check!

Without a warrant. They just pass their request over to a unit with no oversight and - bang - your internet records are in their hands.

And let's be clear - using terrorism as a hook to hang this on is complete and utter bollocks.

Yes, terrorism is a terrible thing. But the level of clear and present danger it represents is hugely overplayed by the media. Because it sells papers, because it gets people watching the news, because it's a great narrative.

In an average year, about 650 people in the UK die falling down steps or stairs. But it's not a great narrative, so we see very few of those 650 deaths make the papers.

Terrorism is a terrible thing but the fact of the matter is that in the 21st century, more people in UK the have been killed by cows than have been killed by terrorists. If you don't believe me, look it up.

And so I'm more than a little concerned that the government should use 'heightened security' and 'terrorism' as a pretext to completely stripping an entire country of its right to privacy.

And maybe you're thinking well, it's not THAT big of a deal. So, the Food Standards Agency can see how often I order from Domino's pizza. But to do so misses the fact that by accepting this you are accepting a slow erosion of your human right to privacy.

Because make no mistake, this is likely to be just the first step. If people accept this, then the restrictions to freedom are only going to keep coming. How long before we see bans on encryption? How long before our every email, our every message are there to be scrutinised by any government body with even a smidgen of power? How long before we're being told if we've got nothing to hide, we've got nothing to fear?

The Investigatory Powers Bill got through because everyone took their eye off the ball and were to busy frothing about the, then upcoming, Brexit referendum. It got through because we currently have an opposition party - in Labour - that is so utterly lacking in cohesion that it seems more concerned in shooting itself in the foot than doing anything useful to actually oppose. It got through because too few people shouted about how bad this was and even less people listened.

So what can you do now? It's law, after all. Well, what you can do now is to pressure your MPs to put this right. What you can do now is to make sure that - even though the media seemingly aren't interested in you knowing how many of your civil liberties are being stripped away - the word is spread about what is happening in the UK. Because the only people who can make this right, the only people who can pull Britain out of this downward spiral its currently locked into, are you.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eurovision 2016 - Time For A Change!

So, Eurovision 2016 is over and it's pretty obvious to me that something needs to change in the voting system.

Now that the dust has settled and the alcohol has been placed at a safe distance, all that is left to do is reflect a little on things. Reflect on the fact that Ukraine managed to win with an upbeat little number that opened with the lines "When strangers are coming. They come to your house. They kill you all". Reflect on the fact that the new voting system - while certainly making things more tense - also managed to reveal all the more clearly how overwhelmingly political the voting of the national juries is...

Looking at the top three songs this year (Ukraine, Australia, and Russia) it is possible to see from the voting that there were huge discrepancies between how the five person juries and the public voted. This is obvious when considering the jury allocated points (211, 320, and 130) compared to the public allocated points (322, 191, and 361), however when you examine things closer those discrepancies become even larger.

If we examine the juries, we can see that there three juries that didn't give any points to Australia, 17 juries that didn't give any points to Ukraine, and a whopping 21 of the 41 countries' juries didn't give Russia any points.

Looking at the public vote and it's a different picture altogether. While four public votes failed to give any points to Australia, only one public vote (Iceland) failed to give Ukraine any points and not a single public vote gave less than three points to Russia.

In total, there were seven countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Slovenia, and Ukraine) whose juries gave no marks to Russia, but whose public gave them either first or second place. For Ukraine, this was even more pronounced as eight countries (Armenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, and Russia) had juries giving no marks and the public giving them either first or second place.

But the sheer volume of countries whose juries didn't give any (or who gave very low) points to Russia means that it is Russia that has the greatest variance overall. Whereas Australia received an average of 3.15 points more from the juries than the public, Russia received an average of 5.63 less from the juries than from the public.

To put it into perspective; while 31 national juries awarded more points to Australia than their public, and 13 national juries awarded more points to Ukraine than their public, only 3 national juries awarded more marks to Russia than their public.

The question has to be asked why the opinion of five, quite possibly (and often seemingly) biased, individuals should be worth the same as millions of public votes. Millions of paid for votes. Don't forget, the public are paying millions to register their votes, but their voice is worth only the same as that of five 'industry professionals' who - as can be seen by Saturday's results - are fairly out of touch with the opinions of their public.

Isn't it time we scrapped the juries and make this a wholly public vote? Let's get rid of the political voting and get back to just voting on the music!!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eurovision 2016 Drinking Game

Is it really nearly that time of year again? Good grief! Well, with just over a month to go until we begin the musical descent through Dante's nine circles of Hell that is the Eurovision Song Contest, I figured that it was about time that I updated the rules for 2016.

Now, last year's rules were almost certainly lethal thanks to me upping the ante and introducing a couple of new rules but it's still not enough because, apparently, people still want more. I have to admit, I was given pause for thought as to just how I could ensure that the levels of alcohol consumption were pushed from 'deadly' to 'apocalyptic' but then decided upon a new rule (rule 23) which may well mean none of us makes it out of this alive...

As with all the previous years, some of the rules are slightly UK-centric so, if you intend to play this in another country, just ignore rules 1 and 26 and knock back two shots before you get started for good measure. Or, watch it on BBC and pretend to be British for the night so you to can feel our pain.

Finally, I need to issue my customary word of warning; this game is based upon the consumption of strong alcohol. I cannot, therefore, be held responsible for your health (or lack of) if you stringently follow the rules of my game and drink yourself into oblivion. Play this game entirely at your own risk…


1. A shot glass for every person playing (probably best to have a couple of spares in case people get overexcited).

2. The national drink of Sweden is (as I'm sure you remember from 2013) brännvin and the highest grade of brännvin is vodka. If you want to stick with the Swedish theme, might I suggest Absolut, although I have a feeling that I will once again be drawn to a bottle of Finlandia. However, I would suggest that you feel free to play hard and loose with the rules in this respect and pick something suitably alcoholic and to your tastes...

The rules are really very simple. You take a sip of your chosen spirit if:

1) Any time the British entry - the alliteratively friendly Joe and Jake  - are mentioned. Knock back a shot if it's discussed how they were both on The Voice 

2) The host(s) attempts to sing.

3) The host(s) pretends to be surprised at something that's going on in what is clearly a vaguely-rehearsed piece of improvisation.

4) The host(s) loses track of their autocue or mess up their timing.

5) The video shown before an act manages to put you off the act before they've even taken the stage.

6) You see Sweden's national animal - which is, the Elk. Drink three shots if it’s a person dressed in an Elk costume.

7) You are not entirely sure whether the singer is man who looks like a woman, or a woman who looks like a man.

8) The singer is barefoot.

9) A country is represented by a singer from somewhere else in the world. Drink an entire shot if a country is represented by what seems to be a random person (or persons) scooped up off the streets and then pushed out on stage.

10) The act involves people on stage banging large drums or objects acting as large drums.

11) An item of clothing is removed on stage. Drink an entire shot if it is removed by someone else.

12) The act is bald. Drink an entire shot if they are also female.

13) The act possesses a large moustache.

14) The act is dressed in leather. Drink an entire shot if they are dressed in leather and have a large moustache.

15) If you hear a language used other than that of the nation who is singing (for example, English words in a song by Ukraine). One sip per language. If in any doubt, just take a sip.

16) You recognise the song immediately as being a blatant rip off of a previous winner of Eurovision.

17) The song is an ode to world peace. Drink three shots immediately if there are any children on stage at any time during the song.

18) There are dancers on stage who, by their movements and lack of synchronism, appear to have perhaps had three dance lessons as a child and have never heard the song before tonight.

19) People are pretending to play instruments on stage. Drink an entire shot if they take a pretend solo.

20) Every time there's some kind of pyrotechnic on stage.

21) Every time someone employs the use of a wind machine.

22) If the act attempts to distract attention from the paucity of quality in their offering by getting some kind of celebrity on stage with them (for reference, see Germany in 2009 who employed the services of Dita von Teese to no effect whatsoever).

23) If there is some kind of random digital animation going on in the background that seems to have very little to do with the song that's being sung. Take a shot if they try and copy the general gist of Sweden's efforts from last year and attempt to engage and interact with the animation.

24) Every time there is an awkward silence and/or miscommunication between the hosts and the people reading out the votes. Drink an entire shot if the votes get mixed up.

25) Every time one of the people reading out the results of a country’s voting attempts to secure their 15 seconds of fame by babbling on incoherently and generally delaying things and winding a few hundred million people up.

26) Every time it’s "Royaume-Uni? Nil point!". Drink a shot each time, at the end of a voting round, the UK is in last place overall.

27) Every time a country gives top marks to someone for geographic, political or ethnic reasons.

28) If there is any alcohol left once the show is finished and you’re physically capable of coordinating the movement of alcohol from the bottle to your mouth...take a sip!

At some point in the next month I'll rustle up a printable version like I did the in the last four years. Oh and I would suggest that, in order to maximise the chances that your rules survive the night's entertainment, you may want to think about laminating them!

Have fun and please don't blame for the pain and misery you will have to endure...not to mention the hangover the day after!!