Thursday, 30 October 2014


This is the statement (as of 15:25 on 30/10/14) from Samaritans, regarding the controversy surrounding their new app, Samaritans Radar. 

"We have been watching the debate unfold on Twitter about the Samaritans Radar app and wanted to respond to the concerns some Twitter users have raised about certain issues relating to safety and privacy."
You do not "respond" to issues raised around safety and privacy, you act on them.

"We understand that there are some people who use Twitter as a broadcast platform to followers they don’t know personally, and others who use Twitter to communicate with friends. Samaritans Radar is aimed particularly at Twitter users who are more likely to use Twitter to keep in touch with friends and people they know."
Clearly Samaritans haven't realised this, but stating who you've aimed a product at does not mean that it will be used exclusively by your stated target demographic, and not abused in any way.

"We want to reassure Twitter users that Samaritans does not receive alerts about people’s Tweets. The only people who will be able to see the alerts, and the tweets flagged in them, are followers who would have received these Tweets in their current feed already."
For an organisation that makes a big deal of  'always being there' I would have thought that Samaritans would have recognised the time-sensitive nature of responses to mental health crisis points. Yes, the tweets would always be there, available to be read and responded to by trolls. But there's no time like the present for inflicting as much pain and damage as possible. What this app does is provide an alert service to abusers and trolls to allow them to home in on the most vulnerable at their most vulnerable time.

"Having heard people’s feedback since launch, we would like to make clear that the app has a whitelist function. This can be used by organisations and we are now extending this to individuals who would not like their Tweets to appear in Samaritans Radar alerts." 
Samaritans does not collect the alerts or tweets, but does collect a list of people who don't want to be included in their app.

"It’s important to clarify that Samaritans Radar has been in development for well over a year and has been tested with several different user groups who have contributed to its creation, as have academic experts through their research. In developing the app we have rigorously checked the functionality and approach taken and believe that this app does not breach data protection legislation."  

"There are a vast number of Tweets sent out every day, which have the potential to be missed. The aim of the app is to look for potentially worrying tweets from people talking about their problems with the hope that their followers will respond to their Tweets - which are already public – and which otherwise may be missed."
If this is the concern, then allow both sides to opt in. Treating those who suffer from mental health conditions as if they're to be nannied and looked after and looked out for without their consent is both patronising and disenfranchising. Yes, we should all be looking out for people who might be having a hard time - but there's a difference between that, and actively monitoring people without their knowledge. Give people an option. "Your friend Z would like to connect with you on Samaritans Radar. Are you happy with this, or shall we tell him you appreciate the gesture, but you'd rather not?".

"Those who sign up to the app don’t necessarily need to act on any of the alerts they receive, in the same way that people may not respond to a comment made in the physical world. However, we strongly believe people who have signed up to Samaritans Radar do truly want to be able to help their friends who may be struggling to cope."
What you believe and what is the case are two entirely separate things.

"At the heart of Samaritans philosophy is the belief that ordinary people listening to the problems and feelings of one another can make a big difference to people struggling to cope. People often tell the world how they feel on social media and we believe the true benefit of talking through your problems is only achieved when someone who cares is listening."
For an organisation so hellbent on advocating the benefits of listening, Samaritans is making quite a point of sticking its fingers in its ears regarding concerns about its app.

"To add yourself to the Samaritans Radar whitelist, you can send a direct message on Twitter to @samaritans. We have disabled the function that prevents people from direct messaging us unless we are followers on Twitter." 
A) There is no such function.
B) As has always been the case on, you must be followed by the account you are attempting to DM. Unless Samaritans intends to follow every user on twitter to allow them to DM, this is a problem.
C) Why on earth should I have to DM a charity to stop them from including my tweets in their ill-thought-out app?


Sometimes, instead of stopping to help the guy who's been robbed and beaten, you should first chat to him a bit to establish how he would like you to help him.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

(underground) train of thought.

The tube is a strange place. Most say it's full of rude selfish and arrogant people. But I find myself watching my fellow passengers and trying to dive into their thoughts; to understand them, to empathise with them.
Isolated from their usual, terrestrial, methods of communication and distraction, people are trapped in the workings of tired, work wearied, world wearied, thoughts.

Some ponder the wordly questions - perhaps personally inconsequential yet none-the-less terrifying and of consequence to those they care about and love: Peace in the Middle East; a global crisis of confidence; crime; the economy. Others' ponderings are of the more personal nature: "how am I going to pay the next electricity bill"; the risk of their children going awol from the childish innocence they want them to enjoy; their girlfriends, their boyfriends, their ex's, their soon-to-be ex's - do they love them? Are they happy?

For these people, the etheral announcements of delays and interchanges, the tinkering of another's earphones, the flash of a passing headline on a free newspaper, are but a background theme to a twice-daily theatre inside their minds.
They're not so hard to spot. You can see it in their eyes, tired, slightly fearful; hunched against the rest of their subterrainian world. Perhaps at times like these, many imagine the Oyster card that gained them access to this trap of swimming thoughts to be somewhat ironically named.

Then the ticket barriers loom, a fresh breeze from outside, the honking of a passing bus. Their smartphones whipped out, communicative mobility restored. Their journey of mindful exploration is over, and the worries blow away with the breeze of a cool evening's air. Until tomorrow.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Rumour and RESPECT

You remember the budget, right? It feels like it was about a year ago now, right?
Because, in a week full of such total stupidity and incredible incompetence in British politics, it's easy to start drawing comparisons between political farces and buses (You wait for one then lots come at once, if you genuinely needed that explaining).

Today, we led ourselves on a merry little goose chase around twitter and the Cabinet Office's press team as some bright spark managed to start a rumour that Francis Maude was resigning as Cabinet Secretary, after his advice to people to store some petrol in case of a fuel strike was taken a bit too far by one dim-witted individual who thought it a good idea to decant it in her kitchen beside her lit oven; the subsequent 40% burns come as no surprise. Don't get me wrong, I feel sorry for her - in the same way I feel sorry for anyone who manages to set them self on fire (cue jokes from various twitter politicos about this being a protest against an oppressive regime a la this bloke.).

As if one middle east reference made comparatively of political goings on in the UK wasn't enough, George Galloway managed to cause uproar by suggesting that his (not so) shock win in the Bradford West by-election was the "Bradford Spring". I can only assume this means France will be sending their air force to bomb Bradford? I'm not advocating bombing Bradford, but it'd probably make better TV than watching Ed Balls and Ed Miliband eat sausage rolls.

And this brings us to #pastygate. George Osborne's middle finger to Cornwall was the slapping of VAT onto hot baked goods in some sort of move reminiscent of ... well, being a complete idiot. Pastygate was born and nobody would shut the fuck up about pasties for 3 days. I hope George Osborne dies by drowning in pasties. It'd be a damn sight better than drowning in petrol. Oh wait. There isn't any of that left.

It seems that unions in this country are much more powerful than we thought. Just the mere suggestion of tanker drivers possibly maybe going on strike caused thousands of utter idiots to rush off to Esso to fill up their cars just in case there's a strike (of which they'd have 7 days notice anyway), all because idiot-in-chief, aforementioned Cabinet Secretary, advised that we all fill up our cars. Followed by some rather rambling ... ramble from Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, who helpfully told us "The average tank is about a third full... if we can bring that up to two thirds full then we should be okay... so if your tank is half full you should fill it up to two thirds full and keep it somewhere in between that and a half full". Which was about as much use as being told by Michael Fish that there would "not be a hurricane".

Talking of old codgers from by-gone eras, we move back to George Galloway who managed to take Bradford West off Labour with a 10,000 vote margin in yesterday's by-election. This, I suspect, was in part due to how useless Labour's incumbent MP had been - but that's my off-the-cuff remark, not a detailed political analysis. Unfortunately for them, some people decided they were able to start providing twitter with evaluation and comment on the election results and where Labour had gone wrong within seconds of the results being announced. The problem with doing that is that it makes you look... quite stupid. I do wonder how much of his time cat-man will spend in the country, let alone his constituency, though. Of course, he won't be around for long - the constituency boundary review will see to that.

Oh, wait, remember the budget?
Remember the Health and Social Care Act?

Yeah, those things still happened.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

On voting at 16...

I'm a firm believer in the idea that if you're eligible to pay tax, you should be eligible to decide how that tax is spent. Of course, voting is rarely the best method of decision, as no party's manifesto lists everything they're planning to spend on. For instance, I doubt the Basildon tories told taxpayers they were planning on spending £18m of their council tax on evicting travellers, and I know this government didn't let us know they were planning on giving most of our money to private companies to provide NHS services. But, generally speaking, votes are at least vaguely legitimate forms of participation - at least they allow us to register our disinterest or disgust in the parliamentary system.
It seems to me that a 16 year old is more than capable of voting. The argument that they haven't learnt enough or are too irresponsible is just as applicable to a very large proportion of over 18's as well, and in a generation becoming increasingly politicised, allowing younger people the chance to have their opinions counted can't be a bad idea.
I have big problems with the concept of UKYP - there's no reason young people need to be mini-politicians. But the voting turn out for UKYP elections is impressive. Young people are interested in politics. That's apparent. The NUS march in 2010 was one of the biggest mobilisations of students in a generation, and while the 18-24 age group is still the lowest participating group in voting, the percentage of participation has been rising consistently for the past 17 years.
Government currently spends a lot of money on schemes and programmes to enable young people to have their say in society, because they are unable to vote. It seems somewhat silly to me to have such a blatant elephant in the room that is so easy to rectify. We're taxing 16 year olds, but we're not letting them vote. We're sending them to fight for us, but they still aren't allowed to express their view on that war. HEY - lets let them vote! Then we can spend a bit less trying to make sure we get their opinions, and focus more on younger teenagers.

Now my cynic kicks in. In the past few years we've been seeing overall less engagement in the established political process and more participation in direct actions. This is mainly because people are beginning to feel that there is no real difference between the main Westminster parties and that the only way to get themselves heard is to take matters into their own arms. Are we really so surprised that we've seen more civil unrest in the last 2 years than we've seen in the last 10?
Allowing 16 year olds to vote is undoubtedly a good thing. But I fear we'll simply disappoint a generation. Citizenship classes currently teach the importance of voting, and writing angry letters and lobbying your MP. Myself and countless others will point out that while a legitimate first step - these things tend to achieve sweet fuck all.
As soon as any young person wants to directly engage in politics - ie, by going on a march, sitting in vodafone shouting about tax - they are immediately told that they're too young to understand or have opinions and should instead write to their MP.
Any 16 year old should be taught the importance of not voting (or spoiling their balot) as well. If there's genuinely no candidate that stands for what you believe in, then you shouldn't feel that you have to vote for one just to fulfill your right to vote. The suffragettes did not fight TO VOTE. They fought for the RIGHT to vote.
I have the right to a free glass of water in any restaurant or pub, but I don't go into every one that I pass in order to take advantage of that right.

The Sustainable Communities Act gave councils the ability to suggest new powers to DCLG that could be enforced locally - one of these was allowing 16 year olds to vote in local elections - the problem was that allowing this would create an electoral postcode lottery, in which it was almost certain that every Lib Dem council would allow 16 year olds to vote, some Labour councils would and 16 year olds would still be barred in Tory councils. The proposal was quickly abandoned, and the Sustainable Communities Act was promptly forgotten about in the hype to big up the Localism Act.

I remember last year - the AV campaign - was my first opportunity to vote. I remember the excitement of the first time I was allowed to step inside a polling station and cast my vote. I remember the ensuing disappointment at the lack of change afterwards. Here's the interesting thing: the AV referendum was counted constituency by constituency. People saw the results in this form. Had they seen the results in total, they'd have seen a much smaller difference in the amount of votes cast for yes and no.
I'll be voting in May - for Ken. I'm a Labour party member (but only just) and Ken is a genuine left wing candidate. Will I bother voting in the General Election in 2015? That depends on the quality of candidates, and if I believe there'll be the slightest difference. I hate the tories. But I also hated Blair, and I'm not really all that keen on Labour's current policies on the welfare state.

If I choose not to vote, it'll be a very deliberate and conscious decision, and I'll still be more than happy to engage in protests and direct actions without feeling guilty because I didn't vote. If your argument against protesters is "You don't deserve the right to protest if you don't use your right to vote", my reaction is simply this: I actively participated in my right to vote, by chosing not to, a right is a right, whether you think I deserve it or not.

You know what? If you're 16 and have no interest in politics - fair enough. But don't for one second think that nobody else does, or that you don't deserve to be listened to. Because you, like the rest of us, certainly deserve your voice - even if you don't feel ready to use it yet.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas greed and material need

As much as I tried* I simply couldn't get into the spirit of Christmas this year. The BBC's festive ad-filler that seemed to involve every BBC TV personality alive, dead, or yet to be born, did little to cheer my spirits. It's not that I'm a miserable codger - don't get me wrong; I've been perfectly happy for the last month, but Christmas could just as easily have been cancelled without dampening my mood.
I guess one of the things that gets me is that I've spent the last year protesting against corporate greed and tax avoidance, against a financial system that is as much use to our country as a chocolate teapot, and against a way of life that we've fallen into so easily where we obtain what we want because we can afford it without a thought for the people that made it so they could afford to buy what they need. For me, Christmas represents the epitome of this culture.
"But you're just angry at the commercialisation of a religious holiday!" I hear you cry. Well, no. I'm not particularly religious, if at all, but what strikes me about the Nativity story is that Jesus certainly was in no need of gold, frankincense and myrrh before he was out of nappies, if at all. "Worship him like a King!" they cried, lavishing him with all of the stuff that we associate with the lives of those more akin to (*cringe*) the "1%" than the rest of us. It's true that Jesus did indeed attempt to live his life as modestly as possible, but the important thing about Christmas was the premonitions of those around him.
Now that I've justified the theological side for my antipathy with Christmas, we shall mention it no more.
Having spent the festive period in relative solitude - visiting my family on Christmas day and then going home - I can honestly say that I wasn't really that bothered.
Like the next person, I enjoy receiving nice things from time to time, but if you've ever been on Oxford St on Christmas Eve, you'd probably feel like an accessory to murder for receiving, let alone wishing for, gifts bought in what appears to be a frenzy of feeding animals, where the fittest survive and the weakest end up with a high heel through their left eyeball, or worse, empty handed.
And for some strange reason, every news channel was obsessed with Christmas sales figures on Britain's high streets. "Overall, profit is down 10% on last year so far, but we're expecting tomorrow to be the biggest and busiest shopping day ever recorded!" one practically foaming-at-the-mouth pundit informed bleary-eyed Breakfast viewers sometime last week. As if I care.
I'm frankly more concerned about the NHS being privatised, social housing becoming scarcer and more subject to discrimination in its allocation, education becoming more expensive than a reasonably priced car, all of which was caused by exactly the same firms having nightmares about their sales forecast. Arcadia and Philip Green's massive tax dodge alone could've paid for thousands of students to go to university at a reasonable cost, or thousands more homes to be built, or the NHS to be funded properly. Yet for some reason, we're expected to be sitting there on the edges of our seats worrying about how Philip Green might make a bit less than last year - not that it would matter after tax owed is duly unpaid - or that Vodafone are selling fewer phones this Christmas.
Somehow the fact that people do need a place to live but don't need a £130 coat, or that people do need healthcare that won't cause them to remortgage the house, the car, the children and granny, but don't need 25 different pairs of shoes seems to have escaped us. I'm not saying people can't have nice things. I'm saying that our culture should be first and foremost about providing for people's needs before their wants.
As if to add insult to injury to the whole pile of steaming turd that our system is, when a very rich and important-by-heritage man gets ill and goes to a public hospital, he is provided for within 5 hours of his rolling through the doors. While the average waiting time for the same procedure in the same situation (i.e. an emergency) is 5 WEEKS for the rest of us mere plebs. I am of course talking about our royally racist dear old Prince Philip. A man who we have heard all about for the last 5 days. I do wonder if the story would have garnered any attention had it been "90 year old man in Cambridge hospital having main artery unblocked". Somehow I doubt it. But somehow, this barage of utter tripe just kept on coming. "BREAKING: Old man's family visit him in hospital!". Oh, wow.
Can you tell me about something important now? Like the thousands of people being killed in Syria by their own Government? Or how about the Christmas bonuses being paid out to stock traders and market cowboys for royally fucking over the poorest in society? Or perhaps, just perhaps, about the tiny little fact that unemployment will reach nearly 3 million next year?
Clearly, the Prince takes precedent. Because once again, we're so obsessed by our infatuation with anything that takes the reality of life and places it in a little corner of our heads that we'll lap up any old crap we're presented with. "Ooh, it's the Prince! In hospital!". I do hate to remind you, but the royal family are people too. Albeit incredibly rich, taxpayer funded ones.
Much like most of our country's bankers.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this.
I don't think it really matters.
Many of you have said the same things in much more eloquent terms than I.
But I just wanted to say I agree with you.

Let's change it.

*watched TV, browsed ASDA, pulled a christmas cracker, wore a christmas hat, got very drunk.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

One way to waste £18 million

Here’s my problem: if someone tried to kick me out of my home and knock it down I’d tell them to fuck right off. As, I’m sure, would Tony Ball, leader of Basildon council. So, quite why it comes as a surprise that those living on the Dale Farm site don’t want to move after 10 years, I really don’t know.
It’s true that there is no planning permission for building on the site. It is also true that around half the site lies on land that’s designated as green belt. These two facts count for little however when you know that the entire site was a scrapheap (this is certainly not how to preserve green belt land) and that around 60% of sites without planning permission are approved retrospectively. Even more shocking is the fact that around 80% of planning applications are approved immediately. Only around 20% of applications from traveller communities are approved at all.
Dale Farm is only an illegal site on account of these two issues. It’s entertaining to think that at it’s core, the government’s current planning reforms which the National Trust so vehemently oppose will probably make a mockery of Tony Ball’s attempts to evict a group of relatively peaceful and good natured travellers.
It will also make a mockery of the £18 million that Basildon council have spent on their attempt to evict the Dale Farm community. To put this into perspective – Basildon council is cutting it’s disability support service by £505,000 a year. The amount the council has spent on this eviction could pay for this service for about 9 years.
We’ve seen that a lot of the facts about the Dale Farm site create morally and factually dubious grounds for this eviction – I can’t see any of Dale Farm’s neighbours being particularly fond of living beside a scrapheap either. So, exactly why Basildon council are still attempting to evict the Dale Farm site leads me to believe that this is an attack on a community and a culture. Because as we all know, gypsies and travellers steal our telephone cables, don’t pay tax, destroy land, eat puppies, worship the devil and regularly steal from homeless people. It’s these ridiculous prejudices that have created a culture which discriminates against travellers and other minorities. It’s a culture of fear and misunderstanding. It’s this culture that we have to target if we want to get rid unfair evictions, extremist groups and racism.
This doesn’t mean branding those who support the eviction as fascists and leaving them to it. It does nothing for us in the long run. They’ll pass on their views and the problem remains and increases. Our job, as reasonable and sensible people is to inform and explain the facts. This holds just as firm whether we’re talking about EDL sympathisers or religious fanatics. The majority of people who support the evictions do so on the basis of prejudice and the belief that it’s “people like these” who have created the bad position that we’re in as a country. This logic sounds familiar when I remember talking to a woman on the EDL march a couple of weeks ago who told me she supported the EDL because her son couldn’t get into university because, she believed, they were full up with Muslims and other immigrants. The simple facts are that there is a shortage of university places because we have an enormous amount of young people with a lot of aspiration. This is something to be celebrated, but also something that needs to be catered for. Instead, the consequences have been used to fuel somebody’s hate.
We have travellers because that’s their culture, not because they’re trying to con the state. What a lot of people forget is that travellers do pay council tax when living on authorised sites. The Dale Farm site is not authorised, so travellers there can’t pay council tax. They most likely would do so if the council would agree to authorise it; once again, Basildon council losing money because of their obsession with breaking up a community.
Many travellers do have jobs – in fact there are quite a few travelling communities that travel because of their jobs (for instance road construction workers) and therefore pay income tax (assuming they’re over the tax threshold). They are as much members of the community and way-paying citizens as the rest of us.
If Dale Farm is evicted, it will be a shame, and absolutely devastating for the community. But it will not be the end. The campaign for the rights of minorities will go on. I don’t think people are fundamentally full of hate. I think people look for someone to blame when things go wrong. They wrong people. That’s how groups like the EDL flourish. That’s why the travelling community have been targeted for generations. These people should be called out on their ignorance but not alienated and allowed to continue. Campaigning for equality is about getting people on the same side, not creating an opposition. There will always be a few fundamental extremists, but with nobody to follow them they’re nothing.
What doesn't help is when our politicians come out and say that they agree with the evictions. Only last week, Harriet Harman told us all that she thinks the Dale Farm site should be evicted, along with Priti Patel and Vince Cable on BBC Question Time. When a government and the opposition both support throwing families out of their home for no apparent reason, it's time to be shocked. When small state libertarians who traditionally think the idea of planning laws are an infringement on freedom agree with the evictions, then there are serious questions to be asked. 
If you're not already asking those questions, it's probably time to start.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Prison, Pies and Petulance

It's been a curious few weeks for our judicial system. I don't mean that in an "isn't that funny" sort of way. I mean that in a "[insert moral outrage here]" sort of way.
The last time I checked, the primary purpose of prison was to protect society from dangerous people and secondarily to make those people safe to re-enter society. Punishment comes into it, yes. But it's not the priority. So I have to wonder how throwing a pie gets you sent to prison. Unless my good friend Jonnie intended to go on a violent pie throwing rampage across the streets of London, perhaps throwing the odd grenade as well, I find it very difficult to comprehend how it's justifiable to waste a perfectly good prison space on him. 
In a country where we're constantly being told that the prison population is far to high, in which thousands of prisoners are released early because of overcrowding, and in which a rapist can serve as little as two years, I fail to see how sitting on a car bonnet and poking a posh lady with a stick is worth 18 months in jail. Don't get me wrong - if I were a posh lady I wouldn't like to be poked with a stick either, and if I were a media oligarch I wouldn't appreciate having a pie in my face. But if my little sister was raped and the rapist served only 6 months more than a bloke who poked a lady with a stick, I would be seriously pissed off. Not because I see prison as a place to punish people, but because in my eyes rapists are more dangerous than blokes with sticks or pies.
This isn't about Jonnie or Charlie, or really any of the anti-cuts brigade who've been sentenced and imprisoned. It's about a biased judicial system putting the public in real danger by improperly using prison spaces and wasting taxpayers money at a time when that money is needed more than ever. Jonnie could have been given 6 weeks community service and a hefty fine, and I strongly suspect that if he had pied anyone else in the face that that is exactly what he'd have got. If Mr Gilmour had sat on the bonnet of my car and smashed one of my windows I expect he'd had also gotten off with a hefty fine and an ASBO. Of course, if you don't believe me, you're welcome to read the Daily Mail which is often full of stories of how unjust the criminal justice system is when Chaz from Southend dodges a prison sentence after an episode of serial vandalism.

If Chaz's serial vandalism had been somehow politically motivated, it may of course be a different story. The problem with political sentencing (and that is exactly what it is - there's already enough empirical evidence to draw that conclusion from) is not that it is unfair, which it undoubtedly is, but that it is dangerous to the public who end up having more violent criminals left on the streets because the places where they should be are full of anti-austerity demonstrators busy reading left wing literature.

Then of course, there was today. An overwhelming wave of stupidity seems to have rippled throughout middle-England, urging thousands of people to log on to the Government's new e-petitions system to demand the re-introduction of the death penalty. Of course, this demand could be helpful if they're willing to follow through the whole eye-for-an-eye punishment thing - Jonnie Marbles pied by Rupert Murdoch would make incredible TV. Rupert Murdoch and the Clown Prosecution Service. It could be an instant hit on Sky 1. Unfortunately, I suspect that the thousands of deranged lunatics who were presumably drawn to their computers this morning by an impending full moon are far too devoid of rational thinking to follow that logic.

I mean, apart from the fact that it is fundamentally inhumane for a state to murder it's citizens, the death penalty doesn't really work as a deterrent or a punishment. Murder rates are no lower in countries that retain capital punishment, and it's hard to feel remorseful when you're dead. Unless you come back as a zombie and join the hordes of other Zombies baying for more blood - but that's hardly remorseful.

Can we stop being silly now, please?