For Remembrance Sunday, Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Beautiful, sobering and written soon after the end of the First World War.
For Remembrance Sunday, Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Beautiful, sobering and written soon after the end of the First World War.
Happy November 5th to you all.
"WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
AND FOR THESE ENDS
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.”
- Preamble to the UN Charter.
We are still all a flutter at Parliament’s failure to decide a British response to the ongoing war in Syria. The shock that was audibly expressed when the vote was taken on Thursday night has still not died away; we are left wandering vainly about the battlefield, looking for someone to negotiate with. I began this war as a firm opponent of intervention in Syria, or at least, a firm opponent of the idea that we had to do something immediately and in probable breach of international law. I have now reversed that position; I, like a tiny minority of my countrymen, believe it is time to go to war to defend that which we deem to be important - international law and human rights. I can see no other option remaining on the table, and whilst I recognise that such a war is not without its risks, I cannot see any other viable option left to us.
For today’s 50th anniversary, a song that reverberates with the history of the struggle of African-Americans; recorded here by a prominent member of the Civil Rights movement those 50 years ago.
When are wars* legal? As the West examines the options for going to war with Syria, the debate around how to make such a war legal has re-emerged; the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, insisted this morning that any response "would be in accordance with international law." Below is a quick guide to the laws on war as they currently stand, as well as consideration of some of the issues that have risen out of wanting to go to war with Syria.
If you would like to “start a conversation” about refugees and asylum seekers, download the amazing (mostly vegan) recipes, or donate to this worthy and humanitarian cause, visit thehotpotato website.
A few weeks ago, when thinking of interesting things I could write for this blog, I remembered a weird organisation that gathered some attention on the internet a month or two ago.
The organisation is called Straight Pride UK. It’s a strange group which believes that the tide of Gay rights has gone too far, and that now heterosexuals have become the oppressed minority. Essentially their philosophy is spun from the same reactionary cloth as “Men’s Rights activists” - the notion that, having essentially run Western society for most its existence, progressive demands that Christian white straight males share some of their total grasp on power is somehow a removal of their rights.
Anyway, I wrote to Straight Pride asking that they answer some questions. Stipulating that I was “a freelance journalist”, I sent them some questions, about what they do and what they believe.
About a week later they responded with an attached document with the title “press release”. I went through the questions, corrected the horrendous grammar, and organised it so it coherently answered the questions I’d posed. I also noted that two rather pointed questions I’d asked, regarding the problem of the bullying of LGBTI youth and the nature of other “pride” movements, had not been answered. I sent them an email about this, saying that I’d give them the opportunity to respond but, if they didn’t, I’d “make it clear in the article” that they avoided the questions. They didn’t get back to me for 2 days, which I thought ample time to write two sentences.
Fully satisfied that my journalism had made them look like the arses they are, I hit the publish button, and sat back, feeling all together really pleased with myself. I called the article “It’s great to be straight… yeah”, too, which I thought acutely summed up their philosophy and referenced a mid-90s dance album I rather like.
The article gained a lot of traction, too. A friend and I put it on Reddit, and I got thousands of hits. In my short career of attempting to become a respectable journalist, it was one of the most successful things I’d done.
Then came the email from Straight Pride UK’s press officer, Nick Steiner:
“It has been brought to my attention that you have published the email that I sent you to, you did not state this in your email request, nor you did have consent to do this.
I therefore request that you take down the article that you have placed on your blog.
You have 7 days in which to do this, failing this I shall submit a DMCA to WordPress to have it removed.”
I laughed this off, and responded to the email arguing their case was absurd:
1) There was no indication on the “press release” they sent me that it was copyrighted material. (I’m no expert on copyright law, but I do know you have to make clear on the material that it is protected). Nor did they make any mention of the fact that anything they gave me was copyrighted.
2) I wrote “I’m a journalist and I’d like to ask you some questions” in my first email. If you’re a press officer and you don’t know what this means, then you really aren’t qualified to have your job.
3) In my email about the questions they didn’t answer, I made reference to “the article”. If that isn’t an indication that I’m going to publish something then I really don’t what is.
I thought this was a good enough defence, and I assumed this would all be swept under the carpet, and that their rather sad attempts to remove my article because it made them look stupid were all for naught.
I was wrong – within a few days WordPress caved to them without question, removing my article and telling me if I tried to publish it again I’d be suspended, but that I could challenge the takedown of my article. I responded that yes, I very much would like to, and was emailed a form I’d have to fill in. One of the requirements was that I “consent to local federal court jurisdiction, or if overseas, to an appropriate judicial body”.
I’m a student. I don’t have the money, time, or patience to go through with potentially having to go to court over this. All in all, I just could not be bothered to challenge the decision.
So I accepted the takedown, feeling thoroughly shit about myself.
Then I get another email from Straight Pride UK, which pissed me off even more. They demanded I take down the material (which I had) but also that I:
“…remove all references to Straight Pride UK, The Straight Forward Project, along with images, and links, from your Blog.”
So not content with forcing me to eat a shit sandwich on dubious grounds and making me take down my work, they now demand that I never write anything about them again. Are these people kidding? Who the hell do they think they are that they can simply demand that I not write about them again, in an email with the pointedly sinister name of their solicitors at the bottom?
This, for me, was the final straw, and why I decided to write this article.
Because I find it absurd that this silly little group can simply demand that remove all my references to them because it makes them look bad. What are they afraid of? Their views make them look stupid enough, why the need to so aggressively bully and harass me? Why do they care so much?
And are they so cowardly that an article criticising them is enough to attempt to pursue a tenuous legal case against the author?
It really boggles the mind.
(Tim - This is a blog post by Oliver Hotham about the group StraightPrideUK, after they forced him to remove an earlier post about the group (which can still be found through using Google Cache). They have since requested that this post be removed from his blog; and threatened those who share the post with police action.
I’m sharing it here because the world deserves to see how this group have behaved publicly.)
Dark Was The Night - Cold Was The Ground is a piece by blues musician Blind Willie Johnson. Little about him is known for certain; he may have been blinded by his stepmother after his father beat her for sleeping with another man. This song was picked for the Voyager golden discs by Carl Sagan, because ”Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.” Johnson died in 1945, sleeping on a wet mattress in the burnt out shell of his house, probably from malaria and perhaps after the local hospital had refused to take him in because of the colour of his skin. Yet, almost 70 years after his death, his music is travelling across the void of interstellar space, right now, as a testament to the loneliness we can all feel.
Dear Claire Perry MP;
Thank you for inviting me to e-mail you to discuss my concerns with the proposals advanced by the Prime Minister and yourself with regards internet filtering. I hope I can lay out the reasons why I feel completely unable to support any such filters. There are three principle reasons for this: that they represent a threat to some of the most vulnerable people in Britain; that they threaten the liberty of others, and that they face insurmountable technical challenges which mean that they will likely harm the vulnerable and leave those you seek to impede unhindered.
On the first point, I am deeply concerned that these filters will cut off thousands, if not more, of vulnerable people from the websites and services that offer them hope and reassurance that they are not alone, and resources that can help them. Back in 2009, Stonewall and the Scottish Housing Authority co-authored a report that stated that between 30 and 40% of homeless young people in Scotland are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Trans* (LGBT); and the two most common reasons for this were a dangerous family or community environment. The chilling reality is this, Ms Perry; parents turn on their children who come out as LGBT, or even questioning, and kick them out on the street - or their children cannot remain there for fear of their safety, and leave home. The advent of the internet has given these people access to a world of resources which can help them get through this, to find help or to simply find people like them in who they can confide and find companionship. By giving control of their internet access to account holders who are completely set against these people living their lives as themselves, Ms Perry, we would be choking off the flow of help from the outside.
LGBT youth are not the only people whose security and freedom are threatened by these filtering proposals. The Office for National Statistics estimates that, in 2011/12 there were some 2 million victims of domestic abuse in the UK. Research carried out for Women’s Aid and Refuge shows that a third of women have no idea where to go for support, and that rises to 50% among the youngest. Charities that seek to help LGBT people experiencing domestic violence have specifically warned the government that to roll out these filters at home will cut off the last avenue of help for thousands of vulnerable people. I do not need, I feel, to linger on the gruesome implications of a policy that will potentially hand control over the only outlet so many women - and indeed men - have to try and seek help, to the very person who is abusing them.
There are other groups who will equally be isolated by the proposed internet filters. Given the results of conversations between the Open Rights Group and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who have been ordered to carry out the application of this policy, those looking for help to avert suicidal thoughts, deal with severe eating disorders or seek counselling for addiction to substances such as alcohol, will also be cut off by these filters. Worse yet, the proposals will also cut off their access to resources which would allow them to readily circumvent the blocks and get to the help they need. They cannot ring up the ISP and ask for help, Ms Perry, because they are either deemed too young, or they are not the account holder and therefore they remain trapped.
On a personal note, I have not encountered anything that approaches the horrors faced by those groups I have identified above. Yet I feel that I should not have to ring up my ISP and ask to view material that I, as a consenting adult, am perfectly entitled to view, or even participate in the creation of. I do not feel it wise to assemble a vast database of all the internet preferences of every single account holder; it raises serious questions about who can access that data, and why. I fear that we are placing the burden of protecting children too squarely on the shoulders of those who have no children and allowing parents to coast through without needing to interact properly with their children to discuss the internet and what can be found on there. In a culture where talking about sex openly and properly is already difficult, this further stymies debate around vital issues.
Lastly, I am well-assured by those in my life who are professionals in the field of computer science that the filters are unworkable. There are a great many others who agree with them - articles here, here, here, here and here all identify the serious issues with such filtering programmes. Let me be clear here - I do not wish to undermine my earlier points. Those who already can circumvent such filters will be able continue doing so. Hundreds of thousands of lonely, scared, hurt people will be trapped behind them, unable to figure out how to circumvent them to escape and unable to go through them to find help. It will be the worst of both worlds, in the eyes of the government; those you are seeking to impede will be unaffected, those who you are trying to help through other avenues will be silenced. The head of Interpol’s child protection unit believes as much; in an interview with the Irish Independent, he is quite clear:
"We are in the middle of a revolution. How we communicate is being revolutionised – and parents haven’t kept up with what is going on. They can’t deal with it by banning their children from using the internet or filters. You can only deal with it through age-appropriate training and awareness campaigns."
This links back to my earlier point - these filters go the other way. They undermine the debate around awareness and push back against the openness that is needed to sensibly discuss issues like sex, gender, alcohol and so on. The government, in a rush to protect children, is infantilising all of us.
I am sure that you and the Prime Minister do sincerely mean well with these proposals; that you both genuinely believe that it is right that the British state behave this way, that it will genuinely protect children and that it will genuinely help catch some extremely dangerous criminals. Yet I must warn you that the way you seek to address these fears and achieve these policy goals are going to harm a great many more people, and leave them trapped and vulnerable in already desperate circumstances. You have been warned, repeatedly, by those who are professionally qualified and experienced in these things that such filters will be unworkable. I ask you to advise the Prime Minister to row back on these proposals - to instead seek to educate parents on how best to begin the conversation with their children about these issues. As a Conservative, your belief in the family is likely one of the strongest tent-posts of your ideology. A stronger family, I would contend, comes from openness and honesty, not from tighter control and isolation of the vulnerable.
I hope you and your family are well. I look forwards to hearing from you again on this issue.
Timothy J. Oliver BA(Hons) MA
Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in United States v. Windsor, pg. 59
I disagree with Justice Scalia’s dissent in this case; I think it is within the purview of the Court to decide on such matters as this; but I think he has struck a profound note in this part of his dissenting opinion. It chimes with much that I have said before on the importance of recognising that good people can disagree with us and still be good.
Oliver’s Law of British Referendums.
Of course, this could all be proven so very, badly wrong in the not so distant future.
UKIP are making waves. Never mind that they ended up with fewer seats on May 3rd than independent candidates. Never mind that they raised less than 10% of what the Liberal Democrats did over the first quarter of 2013. Never mind that they have already lost a councillor in Gloucestershire after just 12 days in office. In a climate like this, that is all so much chaff in the wind compared to the effect that this party is having on larger, beefier and much more venerable rivals.
Frankly, everyone else seems to be completely baffled by UKIP. Today we saw the Vice-President of Services at Edinburgh University Students Association attack Mr Farage’s party for a “well documented history of racism”, as dozens of other protestors chanted at Mr Farage, driving him to seek refuge in a pub. Driving Mr Farage into what approximates to his natural political habitat on the receiving end of angry abuse doesn’t strike me as an especially useful, or indeed ultimately successful tactic. Mr Crema is a member of the Labour Party - and perhaps his reaction to Mr Farage’s visit to Edinburgh to some extent symbolises the bafflement in Labour quarters as UKIP merrily sucks up white working class votes from them in places like Essex and Eastleigh. But this plaintive daze is nothing compared to the reaction on the other side of the Commons.
Pure, unadulterated panic would seem to be an understatement some mornings when one turns on the radio or the TV and hears the Tory party gnashing at itself with the frantic energy of a rabid dog. Former and current ministers have lunged into the fray over Britain’s membership of the European Union, backbenchers have revolted en mass over the EU and one very particular Conservative MP has floated the idea of joint Conservative-UKIP tickets in 2015; to say nothing of another Tory MP of particular style, who wants to see a party with no MPs become the coalition partner of the Conservatives, rather than a party with 57. All in all, this seems a frankly incredible response from a party that spent the majority of the 20th century in government, often for long periods.
The Conservatives know that a party in panic does not win office; that a party divided over an issue that voters persistently tell pollsters is nowhere near the top of their list of concerns is going to flounder. They know this from gruesome experience - between 1992 and 2003, the party was engaged in a seemingly interminable civil war on this very topic, costing them two complete shellackings at the ballot box in the process. This period also demonstrated that tilting rightwards doesn’t do you any favours either - the 1997, 2001 and 2005 Conservative manifestos were built around lower levels of tax, spending control and rolling back the state. The net result of all of this - a party still firmly locked out of the offices of power they had commanded with such apparent ease for the lion’s share of the previous century.
Yet all this has gone out of the window in a mad rush to respond to UKIP and Nigel Farage; a mad rush to win back control of a few councils and a few dozen council seats that it will take. If we take together this blind panic and Labour’s staid mumblings on the issue, then we have the picture of an establishment in shock and turmoil, trying to figure out why their voters are crossing another box. In the process of the panic, they seem to have abandoned all hope of finding other voters, or dealing with UKIP head on.
When Mr Farage’s windy rhetoric has blown away, all that is left is a load of fuzzy nonsense. On childcare, pensions, energy, housing, deficits, local government and the rest, the party’s policies either read like a wish list of the John Redwood campaign in 1995, or as slightly eccentric schemes dreamt up in one of Mr Farage’s lively and energetic visits to the pub. Difficult decisions are bottled, numbers fudged and big policy areas are left unfilled. There is plenty of ammunition to take on UKIP, but this is not going to be as quick as their rise; fighting back will take time and energy. It will take the slow burning heat of a general election campaign and all that brings - the saturation coverage, the angry voters and the endless blogging and tweeting - but when it comes, it will be miserable for UKIP.
Can a self-styled libertarian party truly advocate higher spending on defence, prisons and much else? What if closing QUANGOs to make the numbers add up means loosing the Crown Prosecution Service? Will people vote for a party that is unclear whether the EU rights it wants to shed include paid holiday and maternity leave? These are difficult questions to grapple with, and I expect UKIP to have a jolly good go - as is their style - but in the end, I suspect the result will be bitter for many of them.
It is this long-term fight; to expose UKIP’s gaping policy holes and to pound the pavements and argue back against their breezy rhetoric; that will do for UKIP in the end. If they do not win an MP in 2015, I would contend, they will have had their moment in the sunshine. A party which has attracted so many people and candidates so quickly is going to have a bigger problem than just people imitating potted plants in the future; it is going to have a fascinating time moving beyond an antipathy to the EU and immigration and forging a wholistic party. Can libertarians and social conservatives really break bread in such a young and seemingly volatile party? If we keep up the fight long enough, we may not have to solve a problem like Nigel - his party may solve it for us. That certainly would be a way to go.