January was a very active blogging month for me, what with FTA flim-flammery, attacks on public services and a pronounced shift to the right in the political landscape. We were also threatened with fracking and further dismantling of the NHS. The good news in that month was a commission to design leaflets and other items for a Church event.
ISDS in FTAs
If you thought we'd put the FTA issue to bed on July 2012 when we killed ACTA you are sorely mistaken. As I said in a blog post at the time,
...the war goes on until we finally have a set of globally-respected laws that keep us free to express ourselves and share culture while protecting the innovators and creators that make it possible.- Happy Independence Day, Internet!
Three years later I was still egging people on to fight against the all-pervasive influence of the lobbyists driving the curtailment of our freedoms. The good news is that people seem to be more engaged these days and a campaign to write to MEPs and decision-makers at the EU Commission was launched, the object of which was to target ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) in trade agreements. As part of this I wrote to Cecilia Malmström and Frans Timmermans to explain my objection and wrote a blog post to encourage others to do the same.
As with ACTA, so with CETA, TTIP, TISA, and any other secret agreement. We will oppose them because they're not being negotiated in our best interests, but in those of foreign corporations whose only interest in us is how much money they can make from us. Keeping the terms and text secret does little to encourage faith in the EC institutions or the officials running them.- Why I Believe That ISDS Is A Threat To Democracy And Public Safety
The political landscape
The Government was still a Tory/Liberal Democrats coalition but I could already see a shift towards the US trend of demonising the opposition in both the EU caucuses and in UK politics. I've had to call out the Red Scare tendency a few times. The last thing Britain needs is a McCarthyite witch-hunt mentality to develop till we're left with a Right and Far Right political mainstream.
On 7 January 2015 at about 11:30 local time, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Armed with assault rifles and other weapons, they killed 12 people and injured 11 others. Needless to say Our Glorious Leaders joined in the hypocritical freedom of speech march that followed, then promptly leapt on the killings as an excuse to ramp up mass surveillance, forgetting that the perpetrators weren't intercepted prior to the attacks because of the sheer volume of information that has to be parsed before anyone can make enough sense of it to use it effectively. Much hand-wringing over freedom of speech and the "right to offend" ensued, the upshot being that certain target groups, i.e. Muslims, can be bashed at will but God forbid that we should say a word against protected individuals and groups. This got me talking about my personal experiences and making recommendations for how to deal with unwanted speech.
EU copyright rules are maladapted to the increase of cross-border cultural exchange on the web. The internet promptly went nuts. A few days later, in a blog post titled One bright day in the middle of the night…: Reactions to my copyright evaluation report, she summarised the responses thus:
However, many of the stronger reactions are wildly contradictory: I’m a “fringe lobbyist”1 who’s “about to lead the entire EU into the digital future”2. I wrote “the most progressive offical EU document on copyright since the first cat picture was published on the web”3 and yet “Angela Merkel could not have done it [more copyright-friendly] had she tried”4.
That it gained any traction at all is a tribute to her growing influence in the European Parliament and to the Pirate Party itself. She does a better job of representing me than the British MEPs.
Basic Income, a fringe ideology that promises free money for all based on a Libertarian idea that money = freedom and speech in the market, began to gain political currency. I'm opposed to it mostly because it can't and won't promise what it delivers while Libertarians love the idea of giving people money to access the services we're going to lose to privatisation, forgetting that the promise (or threat) of competition might not necessarily result in low-cost, high quality services. As I said at the time, the arguments don't add up because they're predicated on a best case scenario, not on facts about the world we live in now. But when people are invested more in their ideals and opinions than in evidence and facts, we end up discovering why they were wrong the hard way, and even then they won't give up.
The NHS came under attack from a leading Tory (no surprise there!), who compared paying for a national health service to paying for people's groceries, but as a Techdirt commenter pointed out once, we'll have a truly free market in healthcare when we can choose which illnesses to suffer from. I immediately responded with a blistering counter-attack pointing out what a disingenuous liar Charles Moore is. We absolutely need the NHS and I will fight tooth and nail to keep it for this nation and the people in it, including the odious Charles Moore.
Labour, which has been sliding deeper and deeper into the neoliberal consensus in an effort to regain power, joined with the Tories when they were not abstaining on a vote for permitting fracking in this country. Needless to say I tore a strip off the odious hypocrite Hazel Blears, my former MP. I'll say this for her, at least she replied to me. That her response was weak sauce pro-establishment blather should surprise no one.
On a personal note...
This time last year I was given the opportunity to volunteer to carry out graphic design work for my church, which I was very pleased about because it gave me the opportunity to keep my hand in my old trade. "Like Clay in the Hand of the Potter" was my first commission for the church and I'm very proud of it. See the designs for the leaflets and tickets in my portfolio on Behance.
Anyone who knows me knows about the Twofold Principle:
The individual must be free to act and the will of the people must be respected.
I've had to invoke it a few times this year as authoritarians on every side of the political spectrum worked to curtail those freedoms of individuals and groups they don't like in favour of the ones they approve of. The main thrust of my posts in that month were about personal freedom and independence. I also discovered the benefits of Storify.
Freedom of speech
Laws that govern our behaviour exist because someone, somewhere, caused a problem that created public outrage. Result: Something Must Be Done. If we could only just behave ourselves we wouldn't have half the laws that there are. "No-consequence freedom" is an oxymoron. - Freedom Isn't Free: Why Political Partisans Get It Wrong
Blogger, on which this blog is hosted, decided to get in on the "clean up the internet" act by banning "sexually explicit content" from blogs hosted thereon. The trouble is, porn is in the eye of the beholder, so enforcing it would have been problematic given the "educational or artistic" loophole provided. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and they binned the ban.
I joined in. There really is no depth to which they will not sink in their efforts to expand their rent-seeking activities.
A "contact MEPs" campaign to influence the copyright reform laws they were debating at the time came up and I took part. The resulting blog post, Dear MEPs, We Need Copyright Reform, Stat., is my most popular post to date.
On a personal note...
My web design past came front and centre in a post on how to become a web designer based on my own experience as an amateur with no formal training using Open Source programs Kompozer, Gimp, and Inkscape. I also wrote a post based on my friend Sam Leigh's work with Genistar, in which he advises on how to become debt free and financially independent.
Last March was dominated by posts in support of the Pirate Party and rants against authoritarianism. Basically, even Pirates fell foul of the authoritarian "my way or the highway" binary thinking that poisons political discourse and it ended up hurting us as a movement. Despite this, MEP Julia Reda has done astonishingly well this year, flying the Pirate flag with aplomb.
The Pirate Party's lone MEP
The draft opinion of The European Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Research and Energy was released in which they predictably watered down Julia's modest proposals because, as I pointed out, they've bought into the maximalists' arguments. That said, it got traction and was widely discussed, which was a triumph in itself. One Pirate really does make a difference. Thinking for ourselves is our strength, particularly in the face of ideologically-based opposition.
Basic Income blather
authoritarian it's ridiculous. The fact that it's hard to have a well-reasoned discussion in which the pros and cons are properly explored is a constant source of grief to me, and one of the main reasons why I bash it so hard when the subject comes up. I even bashed it on Techdirt on a blog post featuring the weekly podcast in which the subject was aired. Mike Masnick wasn't best pleased, to say the least, but I believe I held my own in the debate, despite the heat. In a later post in the impact of populism on tech reporting, Mike discussed the way populism affects public perception and championed the use of counter-speech to balance the scales. The trouble is, as I pointed out, that the counterpunch needs to hit about as hard to have any effect. I found this ironic since populism has a massive impact on the Basic Income debate, which should have been put to bed ages ago. The promise of free money, however, keeps it rolling on.
In a year dominated by the prospect of Basic Income making it into national legislation in EU countries, April was the month I blogged the most about it. Copyright reform also put in an appearance.
Basic Income arguments
failure to raise an outraged mob to hammer me into submission — I got but one snarky comment on the Basic Income Is A Con post. I finally got someone to argue the merits and demerits of Middle-out economics. A proponent of Basic Income, programmer Alex Howlett was at least willing to discuss it in a civil manner, which earned him my respect, if not my agreement with his decidedly Libertarian outlook. This got me thinking of how we actually go about arguing our points and how to do it effectively.
Think like a Pirate
It annoys me to state that many people who claim allegiance to the Pirate Party appear to have binned our live and let live principles. Some of them have resorted to shaming to force people to agree with them, which tends to have the opposite effect in opinionated people like myself. Thinking like a Pirate can and does protect us against being swept up by populist movements as long as we're willing to push back. The impact our movement is having appears to be gradually changing the political landscape where copyright is concerned. The UK's Intellectual Property Office Reported On The Value Of The Public Domain, to my great joy. Given the control agenda of the copyright maximalists' lobby, it didn't come a moment too soon.
Last May was dominated by the UK's general election. I went out to help the Pirate Party's Loz Kaye hand out leaflets in Ancoats, where we generally got a positive response. I also made a load of graphics to support the party and their various pet issues and blogged in support of the party and its policies. GE2015: Seven Reasons To Vote For The Pirate Party was one of my most popular posts for a long time. I also got more involved with my local 38 Degrees group and began to take part in their weekly meetings, mostly because I'm disillusioned with the Party at the moment. We're not organised or unified and there's no one to really get behind. With Loz gone there's a vacuum and we're just not having the impact we used to have.
The Tory victory
Sadly, the Tories won the election, triggering a sharp swing to the right in political discourse that caught the left on the hop. The subsequent self-flagellation in the losing sides triggered a split in the Labour party that catapulted neoliberalism to the political centre ground and pushed the Liberal Democrats to the side. Pirate Party leader Loz Kaye left the Pirate movement to concentrate on his own political agenda and we had a leadership election to replace him. A sad loss, but Loz pretty much WAS the movement: few if any of us are well known in the media besides Loz. That was actually the problem. I cast about for a solution to the left-right dichotomy but the efforts I've made to unite dissenters on the left and right have met with no success. The trouble is, most people just don't want to get off the left/right see-saw because they're too used to it to even consider thinking in other ways. The rise in authoritarian control spilled over into the personal sphere as Salon contributor Caitlin Seida blogged about her approach to dealing with her experience of being targeted and body-shamed online. As part of an ongoing global trend towards a perceived right to be forgotten in which unfavourable items have their URLs deleted from search results, this story made the case for abolishing copyright altogether. It began as an effort to control the distribution of published articles, after all.
Authoritarianism continued to crop up and was particularly prevalent during this month. I began to follow Abi Wilkinson and Jack of Kent. She's a left wing feminist and he's liberal but both of them bring wisdom and insight to their posts and tweets.
can't see a banhammer as a solution to a demand-side problem). This time it was feminists who oppose it. Histrionics ensued as they went nuts at Amnesty International for daring to suggest that there might be a market-friendly solution. Feminists in favour of sexual autonomy pushed back, posting articles on the rescue industry where would-be saviours target happy hookers and try to convince them to do something less gross for a living. Each side vied for the top spot in outright freak-out-ery which reached its apogee when I had to call one particularly rancid anti-prostitution feminist out for accusing AI of complicity in the murder of prostitutes. At no point did either side seem remotely willing to discuss the matter calmly.
Balancing the right to offend or to not be offended
The right to offend arguments returned to the scene when Jack of Kent blogged about the Naked Rambler and everybody and their dog rushed to defend his "right" to show us his willy (but not his head. He likes to wear hats) despite being jailed for what appears to be infantile exhibitionism. I felt constrained to point out that his rights end where mine begin and that we shouldn't extend protections to people who act in a particularly offensive way as if they have more rights than the rest of us. All of this feeds back into an authoritarian loop that pretty much tells anyone who's not a member of a protected group to suck it up as best they can if they find themselves being targeted with zip all counter-speech in their defence. Their use of emotion to frame and lock down the narrative annoyed me so I pointed out the techniques they use to close down the opposition and stifle dissent.
Neoliberalism, copyright, and the control agenda
I was still in pushback mode when I wrote about countering propaganda. This was the month in which the Sunday Times posted a riduiculous op-ed that may well have been written by GCHQ. The writer was crucified all over the media for lapping it up like a good little doggie.
Bashing neoliberalism continued to be a focus and I wrote a post on how to counter its all-pervasive lies. This is because the socialists are too stuck in dinosaur politics to provide an effective opposition to the current regime and the Tories are running riot as a result. The good news this month was that the Reda Report was adopted by the EU Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee. This doesn't mean the end of copyright as we know it but it should stop it getting any worse.
On a personal note...
This was my busiest month for graphic design projects for my church. They're featured on my Behance portfolio. Let's Talk About Marriage was for a dinner and lecture series over two days and Those Whom I Love was commissioned for our annual International Meal day. I've been carrying out graphic design projects on a voluntary basis to keep my hand in my old trade since I like to keep my skills up to date.
Just two subjects got my attention in this month: politics and the media.
binary thinking that poisons political discourse. The fact is, neither Tweedledum not Tweedledee are actually right because neither of their philosophies accurately describe the world in which we live and any attempt at deconstruction is done via a Smithian or Keynesian lens as if there's no other way of looking at the world at all.
As traditional broadcast and print media become further locked into partisan stenography (which flavour would you like your news to be: liberal socialist or conservative, ma'am?), I've found it increasingly less relevant since they're not really giving us the news and I'm not really interested in alleged celebrities. As a result, I tend to rely on social media and the tech blogs to find out what's going on in the world.
get off the left-right see-saw and bash the real enemy.
That we were on our jollies didn't curtail my activism. I arranged to take part in the 38 Degrees Day of Action to protest TTIP and CETA and wrote a blog post to help promote it but ended up having to drop out when my holiday arrangements changed. Fellow Pirate George Walkden kindly took my place and the event was a roaring success.
Political Protectionism, in which political correctness reaches its apogee and cry-bullying is used to stifle dissent. I've seen this over and over again but The Atlantic knocked it out of the park, explaining how even discussing the issues is fraught with concern over how people might be upset or offended via micro-aggressions if certain words or phrases are used. This is outright censorship and explains the "right to offend" movement, but I fail to see how an equal and opposite reaction can result in anything but a digging in of heels on either side.
This binary my-way-or-the-highway thinking explains perfectly why Donald Trump looks set to win the Republican nomination for the presidential candidacy, bad idea that it is. I pointed out that the value of letting him win is that he is a one man clown car pileup. Americans are either going to have to stop polarising over all the things or vote for avowed socialist Bernie Sanders. The resultant fallout could provide the opportunity third parties need to have a sniff at the White House.
On a personal note...
The fandom forum I occasionally frequent, Remember the Balrog, came a-cropper when the owner forgot to renew the domain. I sorted that out then discovered that the theme we were using wasn't being supported any more when I tried to update it. Besides, it wasn't mobile-friendly. I had to redesign it using as many of the old features as possible given that they'd been provided by forum members, retaining as much of the original look and feel as possible. See the redesign process and story on my portfolio at Behance.
This was the month when three year old Alan Kurdi was found dead on a Turkish beach, Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the Labour leadership (and got absolutely hammered by the press as a result), and I discovered that someone had flat out copied and pasted this blog into a blog of their own. On a Blogger blog, presumably to wind me up. I just reported it and moved on.
The refugee/Migrant crisis
Who can forget the heartbreaking images of the lifeless Alan Kurdi lying face down on the beach at Bodrum? This was the incident that brought the ongoing refugee/migrant crisis into focus for complacent Europeans. On 2 September 2015 three year old Alan (not "Aylan" as previously reported) drowned when the small rubber dinghy he and his family had entered at Bodrum in Turkey capsized on its way to Kos in Greece. His brother Galib and mother Rehana also died but his father Abdullah survived. They had been hoping to fly to Canada to join Abdullah's sister Tima who already lived there. The UK's Channel 4 broadcast a Christmas message as an alternative to the Christmas Message of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2015 the speaker was Abdullah Kurdi, who said: "If a person shuts a door in someone's face, this is very difficult. When a door is opened they no longer feel humiliated. At this time of year I would like to ask you all to think about the pain of fathers, mothers and children who are seeking peace and security. We ask just for a little bit of sympathy from you. Hopefully next year the war will end in Syria and peace will reign all over the world."
The rise of Jeremy Corbyn
He won in an unprecedented landslide because rank-and-file Labour members finally found a voice in a man who seemed to encapsulate what they believed in. The press went nuts and the neoliberal Blairites turned on Corbyn, describing him as unelectable and a disaster for the party, which has gained many thousands of new members since then. I wrote a blog post explaining what he needs to do to win the next election, which involves getting off the left-right see-saw, identifying neoliberalism as the enemy, and representing the people of this country.
The Right's response
That people are paying any attention to the Right at all despite the havoc they are wreaking is down to their successful capture of the media and their clever shifting of the political goalposts to make neoliberalism the centre-ground position. They don't actually have anything to offer us but an illusion of potential success. That people take sides on the see-saw instead of thinking for themselves continued to irk me.
I continued to fulminate on the failure of the Right to do anything useful for anyone but themselves when conservatives could actually be a force for good. The vacuum left by pushing neoliberalism to the centre ground pulled the neoreactionary movement from the far right fringe to the mainstream right while the left continued what can best be described as a Northern-accented counter-bray that goes, "Hoorah, hoorah, hoorah! We're going to bash the toffs!" Well as long as they do that they can only serve to feed the right wing Red Scare propaganda machine instead of providing a credible opposition. That said, the people of this land are getting fed up of the cuts and increasing poverty so we may yet find that Corbyn wins the next election despite the constant stream of negative carping from the right. I took part in the anti-austerity protest during the Conservative Party conference, waving a Pirate Party sign. The event had a carnival atmosphere and I met a lot of interesting people. It ended with drinks at a hotel bar in Spinningfields.
Australian's bid to be forgotten online
my blog post (one of my most popular) on the subject but it was cited and retweeted a few times.
My one post was a follow-up to the right to be forgotten case cited in Techdirt. It was fairly well-received but honestly, I was merely stating the obvious: if you act like a thin-skinned loon you will be perceived as one. That Dr. Duffy won the case was mostly due to legal definitions of stalking and harassment. The court documents reveal that the accusations made were hyperbolic but based on her actual conduct. The most egregious comments will be removed from the search results but this will only happen in Australia. The rest of us will easily be able to find them and she may well find that they keep on popping up in search results as people look the story up to find out more about it. My advice was to present oneself online as one wishes to be perceived. It works for me.
My workload grew as the year drew to a close and my responsibilities in my new role as client coordinator increased, so I didn't get to do a lot of blogging that month. However, I did feel it was important to get people thinking of the next few years and the hope that we can get the Nasty Party voted out of office. My only other post was to wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year, with tips for ensuring a happy Christmas in your own home. Short version: keep it simple. It worked for my six guests when they arrived on the day.
Dr. Duffy's damages claim ship came in
When Techdirt posted on Dr. Janice Duffy's win against Google's alleged defamation in an Australian court I was surprised, given that they're a search engine and not liable for third party activities. However, Justice Malcolm Blue saw things differently and despite having taken a dim view of Duffy herself in the court documents he awarded her the sum of £115k in damages. Google is set to appeal. The press appears to be unwilling to challenge her version of events in which Google is the bad guy for leaving the search results up there. Well whose behaviour resulted in them being there in the first place? I personally don't like the idea of forcing search engines to whitewash one's reputation. It means we're not getting accurate information about the individuals and groups we're searching for on the internet. Personally, I need to know if the person I'm looking up has a tendency to freaking out and flying off the handle if I merely disagree with him or her. I avoid such people like the flippin' plague and would prefer to be forewarned about them.
The future as I see it
In his New Year message Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to tackle poverty but his policy set is guaranteed to increase it despite the warnings from various sources. Fracking is going to happen whether we like it or not because senior Tories have financial interests in it. Neoliberal policies are also driving up transport costs. You've got to love it when even the business sector tells him it's not working. But then the only sectors he appears to care about are the ones who do the most harm. There will be no investigation into banking culture and practice. And there are at least five new laws coming in this year that we need to pay attention to. Basically, unless we wake up as a nation and start pushing back, we're screwed because nobody ever sat back and tried to enjoy being poor. Not in this country.
The media shamefully stuck to stenography and celebrity fluff when not outright trolling over hot button issues. Expect this to continue while the real news gets reported on social media, local papers, and fringe channels. Tech and policy making will continue to diverge: it's no secret that programmers tend to lean libertarian which naturally puts them at odds with the Establishment. Nobody likes being ordered to cripple their software so it returns a pre-determined result.
The UK's Pirate Party currently has no leader. Former leader Cris Chesha had to step down due to personal issues and we're having trouble filling the vacancy. The movement itself is now ten years old. We've faltered a bit since the movement began and have lost momentum but we do have Pirates in political office and hopefully this will result in renewed success for us. That's assuming we can move away from the authoritarian libertarian/anarchist mindset that bedevils the party and prevents us from being unified enough to get anything done.
I'll be sticking with 38 Degrees as my preferred engine of change in the meantime because they're actually getting stuff done. Expect to see more activism on my part as I work to oppose fracking, cuts to the NHS, and surveillance. I'll be trying to get Pirates in on the act as we need more tech bods in the movement.
The push towards imposing Basic Income will continue as experiments take place in Denmark and the Netherlands until it all ends in tears. You heard it here first. Okay, you heard it here a lot.
Expect more terrorist atrocities, mass shootings in America that will only be blamed on terrorists who aren't white and nominally Christian (complete with a rise in gun sales as Americans panic over the propect of confiscation or increased controls), increased social and political divisions, more Red Scare nonsense, more popularity for Jeremy Corbyn unless he blots his copybook, and more intrusive surveillance. On the flip side I look forward to the debate over copyright shifting towards benefiting the public and a sharp shift away from neoliberalism as cuts bite too deep for the business sector to be willing to tolerate it any more.
I fully expect Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination for the presidency and a Bernie V Hillary race to the White House. Bernie may very well win: watch this space. If he does, expect a sharp lurch to the left which will hopefully break the neoliberal consensus and prompt conservatives to re-examine what it actually means to be conservative. A girl can dream. Happy new year, everyone!