Just slip on these lovely handcuffs.

Just slip on these lovely handcuffs.

This is the most unusual election I can remember. It has been brought about by parliament’s inability to come to a decision on Brexit and most people think it will be an instrument to register their opinions of Brexit. The main parties have gone into official and unofficial pacts about Brexit. The Unite to Remain pact of the Liberals, Greens and Plaid Cymru is the most obvious pact, but other remain alliances are being forged in Ireland and Scotland. Although no clear pact has been formally announced, the Conservatives and The Brexit Party are making non-hostility arrangements to try and solidify the leave vote. So, in essence, the Parties are making sure that the only way we can vote is either with a ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ candidate. It is very clearly an election caused by, and about, Brexit.

Unfortunately this poses a problem for the two major parties. The smaller parties are all in the clear as they all have a consistent and unambiguous Brexit policy : to remain in the EU from the Lib-dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens or to leave the EU from the Brexit Party and UKIP (remember them ?). But despite all the prevarication and word-play the two major parties remain split on the Brexit issue. Labour wants to appear a leaver party in its old northern heartlands but to appear to be a remain party in the metropolitan areas. The conservatives, similarly, want to appear to be leave party to appease its right wing members while, at the same time, wishing to try and peddle a partial remain treaty (BRINO – Brexit in name only) to placate its more centrist majority.

The end result of this is that both Labour and the Conservatives want to talk about anything other than Brexit in this very Brexit Election. This has had a predictable effect. Both parties now want to shower us with gifts. They seem to be saying “Forget all that about Brexit, we’ll deal with that, but look at this huge amount of money we have found to fix the real things that worry you“. Both parties are now promising huge spending increases for the NHS, Police Force, Infrastructure projects ; you name it they will put money towards it at the moment. The only difference between the two parties at the moment seems to be whether you measure their largesse in billions or trillions of pounds.

Now it is quite possible that this is the correct time for some spending on infrastructure to give a boost to the economy. After all lending rates are low at present and borrowing is cheap. Further, a long period of uncertainty has dampened activity and an improvement in infrastructure could help boost productivity which has remained stubbornly low in the U.K.. But we have to remain careful if we are to use this type of stimulus that it has the effect that we want and that any loosening of the pursestrings doesn’t lead to waste or increased inefficiency in public spending.

So while I’ll not lose much sleep over more money being spent on hospitals, transport, police or education I do have some concerns about some aspects. I am concerned about the policy to give free broadband to everyone in the U.K.. Why on earth would I want to look this gift horse in the mouth ? Free broadband – what’s not to like ? Surely this is a clear vote winner, nearly as good as a policy of “A free iPad if you vote for us!” which must surely be next.

My main concerns are that internet penetration in the UK is already 92% (Only Japan and the UAE are higher). At present at least 80% of households have personal internet and 90% of these have some form of fast broadband. The problem that exists is largely one of needing to deal with the urban-rural divide. There are still areas, in the countryside, which are badly served by current broadband providers and here is the rub – this provider is Openreach. Openreach has an essential monopoly on providing the infrastructure for broadband internet. It has never been properly separated from BT and has never been exposed to healthy competition. Our ongoing problems in the rural areas might have been dealt with some time ago were we able to call on more than one provider.

Labour’s plan for free broadband will require nationalisation of openreach and also of divisions of Virgin, EE, Sky and Vodaphone. This will reduce competition and slow development in this area. I am old enough to be able to remember the BT monopoly and the wait to get a phone line installed, or indeed to gat any type of service from them. People are obviously happy to pay for their broadband at the moment and this has helped develop services; it would be foolish to stop this. It also makes little sense to single out this communications tool – why not free mobile phones or free instant messaging ?

But while I fear nationalisation will slow the spread out of broadband internet to remote and rural areas (which is the main infrastructure problem) this is perhaps my smaller worry. Just imagine if the state did have a monopoly of internet provision. If the state ran all the DNS servers and knew every ISP address you visited, hosted all of your email communications, knew all your social messaging opinions and knew every online search you had made – would this make you feel happy ? Looking at the opinions, as far as they can be heard, in China it seems that this is a very bad move. This could be the first step to serious loss of liberties.

It has been a common theme in the world of high tech. People come and promise lots of nice things for free while at the same time taking away a lot of our data without us noticing. Google helps us know millions of facts but in return we supply Google with gigabytes of personal data about ourselves. Facebook help us keep in contact with friends but they cost is that they now know all our interests and social networks. Amazon makes shopping easier but in return they know our wants and desires as well as our finances. These sweeteners are nice but we need to look in the horse’s mouth and check what we are getting ‘for free’. Free broadband might be the most expensive gift, if we are silly enough to accept it, if it means the loss of our privacy, our rights to free expression and free association. This policy might just look like a bribe but it is much more dangerous than that.

Google’s Shame

Google’s Shame

The story of the “Google Manifesto” continues and becomes more worrisome. For those who do not know what this is about it refers to a document written by one of Google’s engineers, in which he expressed his views on gender differences, and for which he was sacked.

The full text of his document is here. I give this link as often this document is commented upon by people who have not read it. They describe it as a “rant”, a “screed”, a “diatribe” or a Men’s Rights Manifesto. While there have been rants about the document and many diatribes about the author (often by women keen to show that they do not conform to any stereotype by using aggressive and hostile language) the document itself is not one of these.

It is an article considering the reasons that gender disparities exist and suggesting that there may be evidence that, at least in part, these differences have biological roots. It further suggests that Google, as an organization, has become to wedded to one world view as to be blind to the possibility of any other divergent views.

Considering first the gender differences; whether he is right or wrong about the relative importance of nature versus nurture in the differences between the sexes, or races, or individuals, he is clearly not wrong that this plays a part. (Anecdote alert n=2) I have recently watched my grandchildren, a boy and a girl, raised by modern forward thinking parents who eschew gender stereotypes, and it was clear that despite their rearing their biology still determines aspects of their behaviour.

The author of the Google Document felt that nature is more important than is generally credited but he does not suggest that individuals are bound by their genes. Further he is clear that these effects affect groups and averages and does not imply that no individuals can outperform others in in

It really would only be either a fool or an ideologue who felt that nature played no part whatsoever. Unfortunately is seems a lot of the latter hold positions of influence inside Google. But it really doesn’t matter whether he is right or wrong on this matter, as long as he is neither abusive or threatening, he should be allowed to express his views. How else can he recognise any errors he may have, how otherwise can others learn what he thinks.

But his views are seen as a heresy – too dangerous to be allowed to be heard for fear that they might damage the faith. Just as the Church of old used to snuff out any discordant views (and often the discordant person at the same time) the clerisy of present day thinking about diversity will not tolerate views that are out of step.

This was the second theme of his paper; that Google was intolerant of divergent opinions. Unfortunately he has proven his thesis is a very sad manner, after the involvement of the Head of Diversity, he was sacked because he “advanced incorrect assumptions about gender”. He had written that he worked in an “ideological echo chamber” and having “shaming culture and the possibility of being fired”. There could not be more proof of this than his own fate. It truly is Orwellian and would not be at all out of place in “1984” to read of the Diversity Officer arranging the firing of the employee for his divergent views.

I am very disappointed in Google. I had often though their “Don’t be Evil” tag meant something but clearly not. I had allied myself with their services for this reason, but it seems it is time now to distance myself.  I don’t want to use a search engine that thinks there is only one truth that can be heard. I do not wish to share my data with an organisation that feels it can decide what is appropriate to be in someone’s mind. So the search is on to find ways to reduce the revenue I generate for them. I’m away to rediscover Edge and DuckDuckGo.

Exquisite Irony – Milo’s “Dangerous”

I felt that there was an  exquisite irony dangerouswhen I noted that Milo Yiannopoulos’ book ‘Dangerous‘ was heading the amazon best sellers list before his book was even available for sale. Since his book deal with Simon & Schuster was announced there has been a flurry of critical press. As the glamour boy of the alt-right Milo has also become the bogey man of the  left’s twitterati and social media groups.

There were early calls to ban the book from Sarah Silverman and Jud Apatow (1) and The Guardian’s comment pages were awash with calls to ban the book.  Later the Chicago Review of Books announced (2) that it would not review any of Simon & Schuster’s output in 2017. A storm of indignation was raised before a single word of the book was available to be read.

The liberals were apparently oblivious to the illiberal calls they made – book banning, book burning and suppression of authors are tactics whose history is often associated with the totalitarian right (Though as George Orwell described in ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ the totalitarian left has become very able at this strategy).

But more importantly the liberals have forgotten the reasons that book-banning and censorship is a bad idea. Sure, it is morally wrong to try and suppress ideas discordant with your own as it denies the equality of other peoples’ opinions. Also, it is rather silly as it is unlikely that you can presume you will always be correct and, come the time you are wrong, you will need access to different ideas to adapt to new circumstances. But, at a very basic level, it is also a bad idea because it does not work. Refusing to discuss issues with people who think differently never causes them to change, indeed it may tend to promote in them a confidence that their views are correct. Your refusal to debate is not seen as a sign of moral strength but rather as a sign of weakness, a sign that you can’t debate, and a sign that you are aware that your argument is inherently weak.

However, at the very basic level it should have been clear that this was a stupid strategy because it is likely to backfire and be counter-productive. It should have been obvious that much of the success of the alt-right, and Milo in particular,  rests on the pleasure gained from upsetting the hierarchy, the pleasure found by saying the unsayable, and the simple pleasure from witnessing easily prompted outrage and indignation. To deliver these shows of outrage and upset feelings before a word had been printed was a free gift to the alt-right’s keyboard warriors who quickly booked their pre-orders for the book.

No matter what review the Chicago Review of Books may have given Milo’s book, whether it be good, bad or indifferent they could not have given more publicity, and increased sales, than had they tried. They have not only guaranteed home more sales and a wider initial audience, they have also increased his profile and cemented his poster-boy status.

The only thing of which we can be certain is that following this campaign more people will have read the book  than would have done otherwise. It certainly helped the sales of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and, as Oscar Wilde stated, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

via Daily Prompt: Exquisite

 

  1. http://heatst.com/politics/sarah-silverman-and-judd-apatow-join-movement-to-stop-publication-of-milos-book/
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/04/simon-schuster-alt-right-hate-breitbart-milo-yiannopoulos
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four