Danny Finkelstein: not a journalist

May 25, 2010 2 comments

Rory Cellan-Jones has a good article on the BBC site about Murdoch’s paywall. Well, I say “good”; being on the BBC site and hence subject to Strict Impartiality Etc, it’s far too neutral about the paywall’s prospects of success (which are zero). But it’s informative.

Most informative of all is the final proof that Times associate editor Danny Finkelstein is not, in any meaningful sense, a journalist:

I asked Danny Finkelstein whether it bothered him that from now on none of his journalism would “go viral”, with the risk that he’d be left invisible on the sidelines as the online debate raged through news sites without paywalls. “No,” he insisted,”I want my employer to be paid for my intellectual property.”

In my current role as a freelance market analyst, I want my client to be paid for my intellectual property, because I write reports that are only of interest to the people who pay for them. Those reports can fairly be categorised as intellectual property, and my relationship with my client can fairly be categorised as one of mutual commercial advantage.

As a result, I tailor the reports I write to meet the client’s brief as closely as possible (having used my experience in the relevant sector to ensure that we can agree a brief that helps their commercial objectives). When I find information that doesn’t help achieve this, I don’t try to include it in the output I pass onto my client, even if it’s interesting – why would I? It doesn’t help the main goal, of ensuring my employer is paid for my intellectual property.

This, pretty obviously, is not journalism. It’s the opposite – I’m finding things out selectively, based on a commercial brief, and the things that I do find out will be kept secret and used by people who’re willing to pay for them.

My blogging (at least, the data/analytical stuff I do on LC, and the transport stuff that goes up here) is journalism – I find out new things, whether previously unknown or hidden in plain sight, and then try and disseminate them as widely as possible.

If, when faced with the choice of “shout as loudly as possible so that as many people as possible can hear what you’ve found or what you have to say” or “back the boss in his plans to make more cash by stopping people from hearing what you have to say”, you pick the latter, then whatever you may be, you’re certainly not a journalist.

Tories, speed cameras, and Voluntary Idiot Tax

May 24, 2010 6 comments

There are mild signs of upset at the Coalition opting to cut the number of new speed cameras. There shouldn’t be.

For one: speed cameras are, entirely, a voluntary tax on idiots. Most non-urban speed limits are far lower than the safe speed for the average vehicle on the road in question driven by the average driver; that’s a given. But if you know a road has speed cameras on it, and you don’t drive within the speed limit as a result, you either don’t care about not being fined, or are too inept to drive within the parameters laid down by the law. And if you don’t know a road well enough to know whether it has speed cameras, then you don’t know whether it’ll suddenly turn into something where the speed limit is actually the maximum safe speed.

But for two: the people who hate speed cameras and the way that they impede their slightly-faster progress to wherever they’re going (not the ones who actually get caught, but the ones who do know the road, drive slower-than-required, and wish they didn’t have to) have a reasonable utility argument: why should fairly nebulous claims about accident reduction – and all claims about speed reduction leading to accident reduction in non-urban areas without a pedestrian presence are fairly nebulous – take precedence over people’s time? After all, part of the economic case for high-speed rail consists of the time savings involved – surely we should take them into account here as well?

In short: of course the Tory-led government is going to cut speed cameras, because its support base consists of Tories and Clarksons whose primary concern is “getting there quickly”. Meanwhile, since the last government’s support base consisted of urbanites and people who wanted to raise more tax money from society’s moral dregs, of course they were going to support speed cameras.

If the anti-clampdown is focused on motorways and A-roads, then the real-world effect will be negligible, except that the tax burden will be shifted slightly from Mr Toads to bus-using Sparts. If it also includes mixed-use urban single-carriageways, then kids will die. Hopefully, the impact will be the former – in which case, all we can say is “party rewards its supporters at its opponents’ financial expense; world neutral”.

(note: *safety*-neutral. Obviously, shifting the tax burden from Mr Toads to bus-using Sparts will also tend to shift it from rich to poor. File under “well, yeah, check out the blue rosettes”).

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-05-23

May 23, 2010 Leave a comment
  • Wow, I managed to confine drunken lunacy to Skype last night – no visible online traces. #
  • Not another bloody ash cloud? Thor will, clearly, have his revenge. Hope they're gone by August… #
  • If you think teaching The Wire in university seminars is 'dumbing down', you're officially the dumb one http://bit.ly/a6j8rp #
  • #ebz The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Sits on your chest when you're sleeping flat! http://fallenlondon.com/c/81591 #
  • This is good: http://www.newscientist.com/special/living-in-denial #
  • Amused to see Lord Triesman forced to resign for saying things which *everyone knows to be true*. #
  • My gf has pointed out that I should contribute to #bandfoodpuns, but I can't actually think of any. Today is not a good day for me… #
  • Haha, #abbottfail – of course he's right, but *sheesh that was daft*… #
  • .@DMiliband @tugsandtost Forward not backward! And always twirling, twirling to victory. Sheesh, could you get any cheesier? #
  • Seriously, I've been out of the UK for a while; is this some kind of wind-up? http://bit.ly/a3hVMu – if not (probably anyway) I'm staying #
  • Quick blast of #ebz then bed, as I need to get up early tomorrow. Yes, me, sensible. Shocking! http://fallenlondon.com/c/82830 #
  • Because it isn't getting airplay on commercial radio #thatswhyyoursingle #isntsellingverywell #
  • I've never had to go to town in a hooded raincoat *and* sunnies before. Well, except when I auditioned for the Matrix #sydneyweather #
  • On the one hand, I'm sure the illumination of night CityRail trains deters crime and general badness. On the other hand, GRR TOO BRIGHT! #
  • Tea, #ebz and then bed. A good night. http://fallenlondon.com/c/84034 #
  • Comedy legal ruling of the day: http://www.workerscompensation.com/compnewsnetwork/blogwire/7887.html #
  • This is properly insane (via @bengoldacre) – really does make one feel slightly Littlejohn-ish http://bit.ly/9rVZJe http://dlvr.it/15ddb #
  • RT @chickyog Con-Dems to stop deportation of LGBT asylum seekers when 'at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution'. Bloody lefties #
  • Likewise. On reflection, DOH. RT @mePadraigReidy No one would have sex with me as a teenager cos it never occurred to me to ask them #
  • No. I literally can't. CITE? RT @juliebindel Can you believe the coalition intends to introduce anonymity for men accused of rape? #
  • See also RT @randomrightwingnutter Can you believe the coalition intends to give every terrorist a council house and gbp50k in benefits? #
  • Apologies @juliebindel – yes, they do. That's shitty. Links are brilliant, why not try them? p24 http://bit.ly/9xkg03 (link via @steff631) #
  • I think he misspelt "demonise" RT @libcon How to democratise Oxbridge http://bit.ly/bHolgX #
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide To Milton Keynes #lesserbooks #
  • The Reasonably Bearable Lightness Of Being #lesserbooks #
  • The Not Really Holy, More Just A Collection Of Old Laws, Stories And Proverbs Bible #lesserbooks #
  • For The Term Of Six Months, With Time Off For Good Behaviour #lesserbooks #
  • The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Embryo #lesserbooks #
  • Brief #ebz break http://fallenlondon.com/c/85846 #
  • The Diamond As Big As Quite A Big Diamond #lesserbooks #
  • The Rock Of Crack As Big As Quite A Big Rock Of Crack #lesserbooks #
  • Lib-left qn: why the fuck does the otherwise sane Dsquared have such a hard-on for the US federal justice system? http://bit.ly/cK5svw #
  • enjoying revolving restaurant japery with assorted sydney tweeps. Hurrah! #
  • A lovely weekend with @ChrissieM and crazy Sydney tweeps. Now a bit of #ebz before INFINITE WORK MONDAY http://fallenlondon.com/c/88214 #
  • Londoners are sunbathing. We've got the heater on. Them's the breaks, I guess. #
  • ACES! RT@catdonn "I was born, lucky me. In the land that I love. Though I’m poor, I am free" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4VdcMXVO_g #
  • ACES! RT @catdonn "I was born, lucky me. In the land that I love. Though I’m poor, I am free" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4VdcMXVO_g #
  • My blog is buggered, FYI – have asked the host about why: looks like their DB server is down, but I may have been spam-attacked again… #
  • Blog now fixed, within an hour of notifying the fault, on a Sunday. Mythic Beasts are ace hosts. #
  • "enormous social damage caused by computer misuse not recognized" > because it doesn't exist. Idiot. http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=4930 #
  • .@jackofkent PR campaigns that favour liberal outcomes are to be encouraged, surely? – PR's a tool for good or bad, not the enemy itself #

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Geeks miss point on Facebook

May 21, 2010 10 comments

A silly XKCD today, suggesting that because sensible non-ubergeek people didn’t back open source file formats in the early 2000s, they now have no right to be upset by Facebook’s Doing Great Evil.

There are only two problems with this analysis:

1) Facebook isn’t doing great evil, at all, and if you think it is then you are a paranoid loony.

Facebook is making money by aggregating user data and selling targeted advertising. Well, yes – that’s what it’s for.

In other news, newspapers exist to sell adverts (with the content being a regrettable but necessary expense to persuade people to read the adverts), and retail banks exist to sell loans (with interest on savings being a regrettable but necessary expense to allow the loans to be made [*], and running current accounts a regrettable but necessary expense to acquire customer relationships). I’ve also got some studies on ursine defecation and Papal religion, if anyone’s unconvinced.

I signed up to Facebook in full knowledge that the company would sell aggregated user data to strategic marketers, and would do its best to target direct marketing to me, to the greatest extent that data protection laws would allow it to. In exchange for which, I’d be provided with a useful social networking infrastructure for bugger all money.

It doesn’t spam me, it doesn’t pass on anything to strangers that I’m not happy for strangers to see. This is win/win.

2) The only people who think Facebook is doing great evil are the same people who wanked smugly on about non-open file formats in 2003.

Well, that one’s not entirely true. Stupid peasants also think Facebook is doing great evil, because they think it’s a tool for murderous paedophiles to groom victims for their doom. But they can safely be ignored.

The people who’re stirring up the current fuss about Facebook privacy, &c &c ad nauseam are total geeks. Half of them weren’t even on bloody Facebook in the first place; and the ones who were are doing ridiculous grandstanding by actually deleting their accounts (rather than tightening their privacy settings if they’re worried that friends might forward stuff to other people, or something).

Meanwhile, normal people continue to use Facebook, hopefully with a little more awareness that posting “lolz I am so wasted, gunna pull a sickie tomorrow hehe” where people who disapprove of wastedness and/or pulling sickies might be able to read it is Unwise.

This is all to the good.

[*] some UK banks during the 2000s thought they could cut out this expense via much cheaper wholesale funding. This proved not to be wholly correct.

This is not pikey, this is just *correct*

May 20, 2010 8 comments

From Popbitch:

In the 2004 European Championships a whole load of Jamie Carragher’s family went out to Lisbon to support him. Our favourite over-heard moment from the posh WAG hotel where they stayed, from one of his close relatives: “Call this a 5 star hotel? They don’t even have a kettle in the room!”

I hate, hate, hate hotels that don’t have kettles (or, preferably, like any hotel in the US – even one which only costs $50 and has a coin-operated bed – filter coffee machines) in the room.

Yes, I could get room service. But I want a bloody coffee now, because I’ve just bloody woken up, and I don’t want to have to get dressed before I drink it, and whilst I’m aware that the amount you’re charging my company would probably entitle me to let in your room service person naked without them complaining, that really isn’t my bag.

In conclusion: Scouse footballer relatives are better at appraising hotels than gay gossip columnists. Probably because the former actually have to get up in the morning.

‘Newspapers are doomed’ forecast of the day

May 20, 2010 3 comments

From a media expert:

The future of national newspapers is in doubt [...]: the purveying of ‘news’ (which is only one of a newspaper’s functions) is in several respects more interesting, more immediate and more dramatic on-screen. The greater part of all newspapers is given over to advertising [...] which keeps them alive, and to features of comment, information and entertainment which might just as well be found in magazines.

If national newspapers succumb [...] it may be a serious, even a tragic loss; but it is probable that local newspapers will continue to lead a healthy, useful and profitable existence for many years to come [...]

The astute reader will have guessed the prediction is from Some Time Ago.

It’s actually from the excellent, late Ruari McLean‘s Thames & Hudson Manual of Typography, published in 1980.

On the local press, he basically wins the prediction – it thrived, more profitably than the national press, right up to the point where localised Internet small ads nicked its main revenue stream. Expecting a 63-year-old print media expert writing in 1980 to predict Craigslist, Match.com, Monster and eBay would be a bit unreasonable.

But it’s interesting that someone so close to the trade (he was lead designer around this time for both the Observer and the Economist) called the outlook for national dailies so wrongly. While 2008 and 2009 weren’t great years for the print press, there’ll be a large selection of printed national papers on offer for many years to come, and the intervening 28 years were all ones that featured a thriving, albeit flawed, national daily print culture.

The rest of the book is also interesting. Obviously, in its own right, because of its excellent examples and advice on how to lay out words (of whatever sort), and descriptions of current and historical printing methods.

But also, because it was published by a near-retirement designer right in the middle of the time when hot metal typesetting was being replaced with computer-based phototypesetting, and before the advent of desktop publishing, it’s a strange mixture of things which are still absolutely relevant and things which are absolutely obsolete (my favourite example of the latter is the advice for every jobbing designer to buy a telex machine to allow instant written communication with clients).

This may be partly why Mr McLean got the national newspaper story so wrong.

In 1980, the newspaper industry was still based on hot metal typesetting, despite it being the most obvious example of a business that would’ve benefited from instant computer-based phototypesetting and offset litho printing, because of the utterly malign influence of the print unions [*]. Magazines, meanwhile, were printed in sensible places using modern technology.

It was only Rupert Murdoch’s willingness to fight a sustained battle to avoid printing his papers using Victorian technology that broke the influence of the print unions. This allowed the other papers to move over to computer-based offset litho, and hence the colour-based, photo-based, rapid-layout format we see them in today.

Without a proprietor who was pretty much an evil bastard willing to lose far more money than he had to gain to prove a point, the UK national newspaper industry would have ended up stuck on black and white Linotype letterpress at an insane cost right up until it died. At which point, Mr McLean’s thesis would’ve been proven.

Update: the Guardian’s Peter Robins comments. Well worth a read.

[*] I suspect this is one of the reasons the press in the UK trends right-wing, despite being made up largely of natural liberal-y media folk. At the time today’s editors were junior reporters, the print unions lived up to absolutely every change-and-efficiency-hating, restrictive-practices-loving, company-bankrupting, general-utter-bastard stereotype of 1970s and early 1980s trade unionism.

What I’ve been up to, week ending 2010-05-16

May 16, 2010 2 comments
  • I suspect a lot of stupid lies are going to be told in the UK about fairer electoral systems over the next few weeks. #
  • So I re-edited the drunk piece from last night and published it (it's the OneWorld article that I auto-tweeted about 10 mins ago). #
  • Conclusion: I can still do some pretty decent analysis at 4AM – but I also tend to drift into irrelevant anecdotes and libel the French… #
  • RT @davidschneider: "Party like a rock star, look like a movie star, kill like the Death Star, collapse in on yourself like a dwarf star" #
  • Alleged #LabLib offer of AV by legislation, followed by a referendum on STV, would be ace. If Nick Clegg doesn't sign up, he needs shooting #
  • (note to Twitter police: he doesn't actually need shooting) #
  • Geek-crowdsourcing: #Australia and the #UK both use #DVB-T for #DTT, so why can't my UK-bought TV find any digital channels over here? #
  • I have a feeling it's something to do with frequency ranges (my TV asks me which country I'm in for setup, but Aus isn't an option) #
  • I'm hoping the #budget today includes measures that make the AUD fall back to AUD2.5/GBP for 2 weeks, and then recover to current levels #
  • My prediction: no Lib/Con or Lib/Lab pact; Tory minority govt; cuts passed by leaders' consensus (with some Labs and Libs voting against). #
  • Main price is that cuts lighter in Scotland, Wales or NI, in exchange for which Celts agree not to vote on England issues #
  • After a couple of years, the Tories will have a fight about Europe and the government will collapse. Then: more fun & games! #
  • Me at LibCon (erm, that's not a good abbrv this week, is it?) on the fallacy that The Markets require a strong gov't: http://bit.ly/985p8v #
  • This is good. http://thewanderinghedgehog.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/worse-than-a-crime/ #
  • I guess the question is, is anyone actually going to tweet about the #ausbudget, or just about which hashtag we're gonna use? #
  • Oh god. I seem to be following #ge2010 *and* #ausbudget. On the plus side, at least the latter will *probably* only take an evening to sort #
  • Watching the #2girls1cup episode of #Inbetweeners. TV WIN! #
  • Donate and RT, if you care about freedom of speech in the UK, or anywhere where UK legal precedents are considered: http://bit.ly/9I3IC7 #
  • (yes, I know it's technically England & Wales, and anywhere E&W precedents are considered – but Scotland definitely fits latter) #
  • For those who aren't politix geeks, BPS is actually how STV is known internationally. Wouldn't it be luverly if that became accurate? #
  • So, I was wrong about the horse-trading. And am rather angry with Mr Clegg. Posts at Banditry & LC http://bit.ly/aS8vmg http://bit.ly/9RXP5R #
  • In somewhat-overshadowed-by-UK-news news, red-state America has gone insane: http://n.pr/agUtw5 http://bit.ly/91ZC84 #
  • Instead of locking up child refugees, we'll lock up their parents and put them in care. W00t, massive Clegg win. Not. #
  • Pointless boondoggle that would never have made any difference to anything scrapped. Money-saving w00t, otherwise meh #IDcards #
  • If Sunny's sources are right here, then *jesus this sucks*: http://bit.ly/a7x27s – there will be no electoral reform at all. #
  • AV referendum won't pass as Tories will campaign against, and Lords 'reform' is just a commission that can be delayed forever #
  • AV referendum won't pass as Tories will campaign against, and Lords 'reform' = commission that'll be delayed forever, not a commitment #
  • Spectator in "not wrong" shock -> RT @James_Macintyre Spectator declared "victory" because Libs in "non jobs" and praises IDS appmt. #
  • Amused at (left-and-right) libertarian pantwetting over Section 10 of alleged Libservative pact, despite *nothing substantive*! Naivetastic. #
  • "without good reason"? FFS, that *always* just means "unless we say so". Have you lot learned nothing from, erm, all politicians ever? #
  • BTW, I'm talking about Section 10 (Civil Liberties) of the possible leaked Libservative pact: http://bit.ly/cdksD7 @bellagerens and others #
  • Notably missing from the supposed Libservative civil liberties manifesto: any commitment to retain the Human Right Act http://bit.ly/b6UAcW #
  • London buggered as an international air hub. Yeah, thanks. *looking forward to changing at Frankfurt every time I go anywhere* #
  • Whether or not you agree with him, Lord Adonis definitely one of the smartest people to have been in gov't lately – http://bit.ly/d6FPUo #
  • J Galbraith, who knows a lot more about economics than you, on why government deficits don't matter: http://bit.ly/cmcYVG #
  • (if Paul Krugman, or the ghosts of Smith, Keynes or Friedman, feel my last tweet is unfair, then I'll retract it. For anyone else, no.) #
  • Respect to Senator Scott Ludlam of the Australian Greens – a politician? Making total sense? Que? http://bit.ly/c6ls6c (via @NathanaelB) #
  • Damn, gmail is clever: just wrote "I've attached…" in a doc where I'd forgotten the attachment, and it stopped me from sending! #
  • #ebz The Starveling Cat! The Starveling Cat! Wraps round your throat like a cheap cravat! http://fallenlondon.com/c/76920 #
  • Things I need to stop doing while working freelance #1: counting time on things I dislike (housework, food shopping, fixing stuff) as work #
  • Obviously that's work time for "have I done enough work today yet?" purposes, not for billing purposes… #
  • More to the point, nobody wants to blow up NZ, but all foreign animals want to eat NZ animals because NZ animals are LAME. @monstroso #
  • NZ is the only country where a single individual (someone's cat) has caused the extinction of an entire species @monstroso #
  • Also, why did nobody tell me the awesome Mr Higson (@monstroso) was on Twitter? Only realised identity when clicked through after replying! #
  • Brought onboard for the label (and then kept well away from decisionmaking): Vince Cable #coalitionrhymingslang #
  • Inspired by @CulturalSnow, "twas brillig, and the Michael Goves did gyre and gimble in the wabe" #coalitionwhimsicalpoetry #
  • Token darkie = Baroness Warsi #coalitionrhymingslang #
  • Pass The Duchy On The Left Hand Side = Lord Strathclyde #coalitionrhymingslang #reallystupidpuns #
  • At least he didn't get in = Oliver Letwin #coalitionrhymingslang #
  • Pleased to note that, unlike most of the Cabinet, George Letwin is neither Right nor Honourable (yes, I know that's just cos he's not a PC) #
  • Public transport'll get hammered = Dominic Hammond #coalitionrhymingslang #richardsbrother? #
  • CORRECTION: Public transport'll get hammered = Phil Hammond #coalitionrhymingslang #richardsbrother #toryconfusion #
  • Working class empathy fail: http://bit.ly/c1OD1V – I've only ever lived in houses with small bathrooms; have used loo as loo, and sat in… #
  • …other rooms better-designed for sitting. I've never (as adult or as kid) had a bathroom with a chair. What the hell is Mangan on about? #
  • I've never done gov't consultancy work, but at my old place we had 6-month-grads billed out to HMG at gbp150 per hour @BorisWatch #
  • Oz TV is repeating all of #PrimeSuspect. This is awesome. Best line so far is, obviously, from Helen Mirren as DCI Tennyson: #
  • Boss: "if this missing persons case turns into a murder inquiry, we can spare an extra six uniformed police." #
  • Tennyson: "What, as pallbearers?" #
  • RT @MarkReckons Blogpost: Ken Clarke – the great political survivor http://bit.ly/9wZDmv #
  • Fuck, that was intense. Why doesn't ITV make amazing shit like that any more? Oh yeah, because #Tories sold it. #primesuspect #
  • Feel rubbish. Had a terrible driving lesson, due to said rubbishness. I'm sustained only by the fact that the evening will be lovely. #
  • Ah, Arkell vs Pressdram – my favourite resolution to a lawsuit ever: http://www.nasw.org/users/nbauman/arkell.htm #
  • *frantically changes sheets, empties bins, puts bag in hoover in doomed attempt to make new girlfriend think I'm not a total slob* #
  • Quick, someone market one of these to "fiat money will collapse" teabaggers! http://bit.ly/9icwil (via @thabet1979) #
  • If I had a pet otter, I would definitely name it "Rayleigh". #
  • …much as if I had a pet coyote, I would definitely name it "Don". #
  • #Crossrail's going ahead. Woo. Was slightly concerned the Tories were going to punish London for not voting them in… #
  • I can't think of a way to phrase the next tweet without sounding like a pervert. So I won't. #
  • Thanks for #FFs, @chickyog and @sunnysingh_sw6 #
  • Pleasant, if weird – Speccie piece supporting left-lib (ie "problem is poverty/lack of cohesion") view on migration http://bit.ly/bae5Qu #
  • Works for all religious-right types: RT @hangbitch: "Dorries loves all embryos, until they grow up to be poor people… #
  • I follow NI politix more than most Brits, and never heard of RE: RT @BelTel Reg Empey quits as Ulster Unionist leader http://bit.ly/dyvqoS #
  • Bare feet are by far the most effective, if not least painful, means of picking up broken glass. FACT. #
  • How the hell can someone who's politically aware opt for "Vince Cable's a useless twat" as a comment? #

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Tories stitch up Lib Dems on civil liberties

May 12, 2010 9 comments

Sunny at LC reckons he has a copy of the Libservative agreement.

Libertarians, of both left-and right- varieties, have been getting super-excited on Twitter about section 10, which is dedicated to reversing ZaNuLieBore’s Evil Police State, freeing the dissidents from the gulags, etc:

A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
Further regulation of CCTV.
Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

What does this mean in real life?

Well, a bit of cash saved. The ID database was never going anywhere (come on, NPFIT is much simpler and failed), and its cancellation is solely bad news for IT consultancies and good news for the Treasury/taxpayer. Something which doesn’t and can’t exist doesn’t threaten civil liberties.

But that’s the only real pledge to do anything substantive (apart from allowing parental opt-out when schools try and use fingerprint authentication for IT access purposes, which is frankly bizarre – if a kid’s laptop is fingerprint-activated rather than password activated, then so bloody what?) – and the only reason the Tories moved towards outright opposition to the ID database in the election run-up is because they’d worked out that it would have been an epic failure. It wouldn’t have happened under Labour either (their manifesto carefully left the possibility of delaying or cancelling the database intact), although more money would likely have been wasted first.

The others are all weasel words that commit to nothing. No data stored “without good reason” means “unless we say so” – the previous government would say “to stop terrorists, pirates and paedophiles” is a good reason for all the retention they mandated. Any agreement that contains such a vague get-out clause is an agreement that means nothing at all.

Similarly, “extension of the scope of the FoIA” is great. But without any concrete details of how it’ll be extended, and with the Tories (who’ve historically opposed FoI far more even than Labour) running the show, it’s hardly likely to mean much.

You can run through the same process for all the others. They can all be implemented in a way that changes precisely nothing from how things are done now, and that’s precisely how they will be implemented.

But the most disturbing thing in section 10 is actually something that it doesn’t say.

The greatest victory for civil liberties over the last 25 years or so – the Human Rights Act – isn’t even mentioned, whereas a Great Repeal Bill is mentioned. Given historic Tory opposition to the HRA, does this make anyone else bloody nervous….?

Well, I called that one wrong

May 12, 2010 1 comment

I’ve got my reaction up on LC. In short, Nick Clegg has destroyed the Liberal Democrat party because he wants to be a minister.

The country benefits in the short term, very very slightly – the Libservative government will be slightly less socially nasty than a Tory plus Ulsterite minority government – but it’s still basically going to implement Tory policies.

In exchange for which, the Lib Dems have, as far as I can see, been wiped out – they will lose so much left-wing support next time round that they’ll be reduced back to mid-20th-century levels of vote share, and they aren’t even likely to get the changes in the electoral system that would make that worthwhile (unless the Tories have pledged to support a “Yes” vote in the Alternative Vote referendum, in which case I’m pleasantly shocked and retract some of my scorn).

So I guess it’s time for UK lefties to rejoin Labour, and try and ensure the candidates who’ll win the seats next time where left-wing voters previously supported the Liberal Democrats are left-liberals rather than Blairites…

We have just OneWorld, but we live in different ones

May 10, 2010 1 comment

Within a few years, there will only be about five real long-haul airlines, all based around the current alliance systems. The non-alliance airlines will stop flying long-haul, or where national egos won’t allow that to happen they’ll cut down to a couple of planes on flagship routes that nobody in their right mind would use unless their ticket cost fifty quid (good example: Nigeria’s Arik Air) [*]

Once you’re in the air, the best alliance currently going is OneWorld, which features most of the world’s most likeable airlines, plus America’s least awful major one.

BA are the BBC of airlines; I’ve posted before about why I like them. In short, old-school Britishness is a good counterpart to the unpleasantness and sheer weirdness of long-haul flying.

AA aren’t as awful and generally customer-averse as the other US airlines (although they’re not good, reflecting the general impossibility of finding an airline to fly on in the US that is good. I haven’t had the chance to try Virgin America [**]. They may be an exception).

Cathay Pacific and Qantas are desperate to outperform BA for obvious, post-colonial reasons. And they do, a bit: Qantas has newer planes, because Australia is richer than the UK, and Cathay has prettier stewardesses. But the general experience across the three airlines is pretty similar.

Then here’s Iberia, who aren’t as bad as you’d expect: they’re the least worst airline with serious numbers of flights from Europe to South America, which is Useful.

Unfortunately, as I’ve posted before, British Airways spent most of the 2000s being run by an idiot. So when BA and airport operator BAA built their new terminal at Heathrow, which is OneWorld’s most important hub, they only made it big enough to accommodate BA flights – not to accommodate all OneWorld flights.

Terminal 5 is one of the best airport experiences in the world. It is architecturally stunning, it is massively useable; overall, it’s really not a bad place to pass a few hours. Or even a week. But flying into Heathrow on a OneWorld partner flight and out on a BA flight is a massive pain in the arse, and involves losing the far-from-lovely Terminal 3, and Heathrow’s terrible internal transport links.

Given that everyone’s endgame at the time T5 was being planned – even Rod Eddington’s – was to run OneWorld as an integrated airline, this is the most insanely stupid thing ever.

It means that for any long-haul journeys that don’t start or end in London, you’d do better to buy a Star Alliance ticket rather than a OneWorld ticket. And because BA and Qantas have integrated their UK-Australia routes and there’s no room to bring Qantas over, all BA flights to Singapore and Australia (so not important destinations or anything) also leave from Terminal 3, so again you’d be daft to use them or to try and transfer onto them.

The Star Alliance partners (the big ones are Lufthansa, United, Singapore and Air India) mostly aren’t as good as the OneWorld airlines, apart from Singapore, who are better. But they’ll have a single, integrated terminal at Heathrow that’s just as good as Terminal 5, as well as good hubs in Frankfurt and Singapore. So they’ll kick OneWorld’s arse on Europe-Asia/Pacific and Europe-US flights, despite offering mostly-German levels of customer service once you’re onboard.

This is what is known as “the kind of obviously stupid, even at the time, short-termist idiocy that could only be implemented by the management of a quoted UK company”.

[*] Obligatory footnote: if Jim Bliss is right about the scale of the impending oil crash, then none of the above applies. On the plus side, Terminal 5 will then easily be big enough to accommodate what’s left of OneWorld…

[**] It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Virgin alliance-wise and as ownership rules change. In theory, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Blue/V Australia and Virgin America could be a decent global airline in their own right for primary routes, in the same way that at least one of the Middle Eastern carriers will survive. The problem here is that Star’s Singapore Airlines owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. Integrating Virgin Atlantic into Star would kill it as a brand, and would leave the Aussie and US businesses as basically domestic/local carriers, which would be a terrible shame. But Richard Branson doesn’t have the cash to buy the stake back, and I can’t think of anyone else who’d be willing to fund the deal. For a start, the last company to back Branson on a major airline investment lost over a billion dollars and then quit passenger aviation for good….