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Gideon Hallett

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April 18th, 2010


08:05 pm
Am sitting in the Pembury with clanwilliam, derryderrydown, major_clanger and reddragdiva. From the level of the conversation, I fear that East London may shortly be declared a hazardous zone.

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April 8th, 2010


11:42 am - Call them to account.
In the aftermath of the passing of the Digital Economy Bill (which was, alas, pretty much inevitable, despite the heroic efforts of various MPs), I've been thinking about what we can do about it now.

It strikes me that the voters in the UK 2010 election have something that we've never had before.

Easy access to video recording; in mobile phones and in cameras.

And the facility to put these videos online for little or no cost.

As part of the 2010 election campaign, those people who want to be your MP next time around are going to be walking the streets of your town - trying to enlist your support.

This is the perfect time to ask them why they supported the Digital Economy Bill. In person. On camera. And then to share it with the world via video-sharing sites.

Blog about it. Tweet about it. Make sure that any constituent who wishes can find video footage of their MP being cross-examined about it.


Ask them how many of their constituents personally argued in favour of the Bill.

Ask them how competent they themselves are with computers.

Ask them if they could reliably secure their own home computers against third parties - and if they can't answer that question, ask them why they expect their constituents to be any better at it.

Ask them if their personal and business life would be impacted by the suspension of Internet access because their computer had been compromised by a third party.


And if they can't answer those questions to a satisfactory degree, ask them why they voted into law a Bill that makes this possible - and even likely.


Now is your chance to call your MP to account for the Digital Economy Bill; on the streets, in person.

I would say; do it politely.

Don't be too aggressive; because you're putting yourself and your own behaviour on show as well, and behaving like a thug or a bully will only damage the cause you support.

But you have a right to ask these questions - in person - and your MP should be able to answer them before they can expect any support.

(feel free to copy and repaste this elsewhere.)

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07:55 am - The list of shame.
If you see any of this bunch in your area canvassing, feel free to tell them exactly what you think of the Digital Economy Act; because these are the MPs who voted for it.

list insideCollapse )

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April 7th, 2010


01:41 pm - Letter to MP
Sent to Meg Hillier MP:

letter insideCollapse )

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09:31 am - With apologies to Hansard.
Here's a transcript of Fiona Mactaggart's storming speech in the House yesterday, taken from the record.

behind the cut, for length - but do read it, it's a crackerCollapse )

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01:04 am - The backchannel and the 'oh shit' moment.
I attended a fun session at Eastercon last weekend titled 'SF/F and the Social Media'; which essentially turned into a fine demonstration of what was referred to as 'the backchannel'; where a real-time or near-real-time social channel forms a silent part of the dialogue.

So the person or panel talks to the audience, the audience talk back - and another layer of discussion happens over the likes of an IRC channel or Twitter.

I first really saw the power of this during a Home Office briefing at LINX 59 in 2007; where an unsuspecting Home Office flack got to try and spin the IMP to the UK's ISPs (including the idea that the ISPs should pay for it!)

One mid-level Home Office suit against several hundred techies in a room collaborating over IRC and using the net to hunt down examples of why and how he was wrong; it was demonstrated quickly and harshly that he had completely underestimated his audience.

This is the backchannel. In that case, the speaker was not part of it, and was ripped to shreds as a result.

In the Eastercon panel, the panel were part of the backchannel as well, as were people not at the Con, who got to take part via the Twitter tag #livecon; it was a far fluffier event all round.

(That said; there was a poignant moment during the panel where someone confessed that she felt slightly left out as she'd left her terminal behind; she knew there was another discussion going on in the room that she was not a part of.)


Anyway, to cut to today: in particular, the Commons debate over the Digital Economy Bill.

Which has been reported in many places by the great and the small; the turnout in the chamber was abysmal (less than 10% of the MPs at most); and while there were quality contributors to the debate (stand up, Tom Watson, Austin Mitchell, Fiona Mactaggart, John Grogan, Eric Joyce and John Redwood) there was also a truly staggering level of fudging, ignorance and wilful misunderstanding from a number of MPs.

(Siôn Simon; I'm especially looking at you, for trying to introduce a hamfisted Star Wars metaphor that could have come straight from the mouth of David Brent.)


But on a more positive note: I do not think that there is any single session of Parliamentary debate in the UK in recent years that has received so much co-ordinated attention while it was happening; that has been discussed, live and minute-by-minute, by thousands of UK voters.

To begin with, the debate went on as any such debate would; MPs took turns to stand up and speak. It became apparent, however, that Tom Watson was tweeting on his Blackberry from the Chamber; when Fiona Mactaggart made her barnstorming speech and half of #debill had a nerdgasm, he passed the comments onto her in the chamber; and people in the chamber must have started receiving communiques from fellows: look at Twitter.


Thus the 'oh shit!' moment: the MPs debating the issue realised that they were being held under heavy scrutiny by thousands of people; that the 15-20 of them sitting in the chamber were being watched by the largest audience that Parliament has ever had for a political session.


Laugh it off, Adam Afriyie. Pete Wishart; make jokes about shirts and MPs not needing to pay too much attention to the opinions of those on Twitter; but you should be aware - what you say was recorded and will be used in judgement against you. And, well, maybe a few tens or hundreds of votes in your constituency isn't going to make a major difference to your electoral chances.

But what you were subjected to tonight was genuine democratic supervision; the attention of thousands of people to whom democratic government means more than just a tick in a box every four or five years.

People following the debate on their phones, their PDAs, their computers.

People who have access to supplementary material and background information about the commercial interests sponsoring this Bill and their links with the major parties.

People who are increasingly disenchanted with 'representative' party democracy, especially given that it seems to represent foreign moguls such as Geffen over and above UK taxpayers and voters.


Of course, this is all so much hot air as is. It is all too easy to make comments about an issue, get angry for a couple of days, and then settle back into torpor - and I've seen many such campaigns come and go when the next outrage took the headlines.

The backchannel is as prone as any medium to the demagogue; to ambiguity, fashion, faulty logic and appeals to emotion; and can all too easily become the angry torch-wielding mob - or lose focus and unravel.

But when used in a coherent and intelligent fashion, well, you have something that holds political parties to account like nothing else; hundreds of ordinary people watching each MP; analysing how they vote, what they say and whether they do their job - and calling them to account when they don't.

And those people can organise themselves and their votes.

Remember that, the next time the next time you describe your constituents as bonkers, David Cairns.

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April 6th, 2010


08:41 pm
Kicking arse in the Digital Economy Bill debate:

Austin Mitchell
Tom Watson
John Redwood
Fiona Mactaggart

(With extra arse-kicking credit to Mactaggart, who rocked the House.)

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12:58 am - News of the world.
So, like about half the people on my various feeds, I saw on Wikileaks the 2007 footage of a couple of Reuters journalists and a dozen bystanders getting wiped out by a couple of attack choppers.

A few thoughts spring to mind:

Firstly: the age-old problem of troops in a mixed environment. I think the pilots were out of line; but they were obeying the rules of engagement and shooting at what they thought were guerillas with weapons. They followed the orders and got clearance before opening fire.

This happened three years after the Haifa St incident (which reads like a survivor's account of today's footage); a group of Iraqi civilians shot down by a chopper because they looked vaguely suspect and were present in a danger zone (which also happened to be the capital city, but hey).

It has happened time and time and time again; and it has generally only hit the news when a journalist for a major news network gets wounded or killed. How many times has this happened and not hit the news?

Don't blame the guys in the chopper for being anything more than nervous, keyed-up and slightly trigger-happy. Blame the staff officers for ignoring what they knew; that their operating procedures in the theatre functioned on the basis that, in the capital of Iraq, it was better to kill civilians than let insurgents go free.


Secondly: the Orwellian language of military arse-covering; the references to a firefight. It's not a firefight if only one party is shooting; and if your rationale is that there has been shooting in the area at some point, then anyone in the city is essentially a target until proven innocent. Not exactly conducive to winning hearts and minds; but rather the terrorism of superior firepower.


Thirdly: this reminds me quite strongly of the Pulitzer-winning photo Nick Ut took in Vietnam; the snapshot of a terrified fleeing 9-year-old girl in the aftermath of a South Vietnamese napalm attack; just another civilian caught by a conflict they had no control over. Might this be the 2010 equivalent?


Fourthly: I'm reminded of a quote I found that I used in an argument about Iraq back in January 2003:

"War portrayed only through government-approved language creates a false verbal map. The greatest threat to this map is reality itself, or a picture of that reality. Thus it is that governments strictly control what pictures of war they allow their citizens to see. When U.S. military censors refused to release videotapes showing Iraqi soldiers being sliced in half by helicopter cannon fire, a spokesman for the Pentagon defended the censorship quite logically: 'If we let people see that kind of thing, there would never again be any war.'"

(William Lutz, The New Doublespeak, talking about footage of the Gulf War in 1991)


This needs to be seen. It needs to be learnt and relearnt.

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February 25th, 2010


08:54 pm - Long overdue
(and not just the update; I've been busy this month!)

Looks as though my experiences with the work of Bjørn Lomborg aren't unique.

That said; I'm not going to make any judgements on the book until I've read it; and I'll try not to let my existing prejudices get in the way of my judgements; no-one is automatically valid just because they say something the reader would like to be true.

But it is good to see Lomborg getting subjected to what looks like a genuine critical analysis for a change, rather than the 'OMG! figures! lots of footnotes! he must be awfully clever!' treatment that a lot of the mass media have given him to date.

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February 5th, 2010


10:28 am - Point; you have missed it somewhat...
Simon Jenkins today ably demonstrates why a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

rant withinCollapse )

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