November, 2004

Demos on the Pro-Am Revolution

Thinktank Demos have today published a report detailing how enthusiasts and amateurs are changing the way we do things.
So far I’ve only had a quick flick through the report, but it’s effectively an examination of those people who invest so much time in their hobbies and interests that they’re as good as the professionals. Look at what you can do in music or in programming with Open Source programs. Worth a read.

Blair on ID Cards

While David Blunkett fights for his political career, today’s also the day that he introduces the ID Cards bill into the Commons.
In the meantime, Blair is expected to address them in his monthly press conference in a few minutes time… Things I’d like him to address are exactly how he thinks ID cards will prevent terrorism>? Exactly how much the scheme is really going to cost? How much every man, woman and child will be mandated to pay for a card (passports are currently not compulsary)? How he can guarantee that the database will be fully secure, despite the fact that potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of people will have access to it..? Exactly why we need a card when the only time in our history that we previously needed one was when we were at war with Germany who were threatening imminent invasion..? Oh, and why we’re losing more and more of our civil liberties? That’ll do for starters.
[UPDATE] Well Blair certainly talked quite a lot about ID Cards and tried to explain why he thought they’re incredibly necessary – all those criminals who have aliases and foreigners who are using our free services. He also mentioned that there’ll be ten year maximum sentances for people who either put wrong data into the database or misuse the data. Sadly, none of the journlists attending were especially interested in pinning Blair down on this. Understandably, they were more interested in hearing his views on David Blunkett. He’s obviously still backing the man. This is his monthly appearance, so people ask lots of questions about lots of different things.
But ten year jail sentences or not, we know that people are going to misuse the data. Human nature says so. People are going to find themselves privvy to data on an enormous scale – and there are going to be lots of people with access to it.
Eleanor Goodman of Channel 4 News asked whether the government was getting too much into peoples private lives with ID cards, stopping us smoking, health warnings and the like. Blair didn’t see this as irresponsible.
Someone from The Times questioned Blair over the Government’s ability to cope with the IT side of ID Cards. Blair responded talking about it taking time, hence the 2008 start date, and then wandered off talking about the necessity of biometric passports.
A journalist (who’s organisation I missed) did highlight the fact that terrorist acts in other countries including Spain, occurred in places where ID Cards were already in place. Blair reiterated that these would be biometric. And ID Cards won’t stop everyone, but he then went on to talk about illegal immigration and illegal working. That, it seems is the real reason now. Who’d have thought that people living and working illegally in this country will stop the moment they realise that they can’t get a card?
I expect that a full transcript of the press conference will be published at the Downing Street website.
[UPDATE 2] Well here’s that link that I was expecting.
And here are more details of the ID Card Bill that Blunkett is desperate to get through before May. Broadly speaking it seems that we’re mainly getting one of these cards because Blair’s great mate Bush as well as other countries, are insisting we have biometric passports, so it’s not much of a leap to give us ID cards.
Here are some of the things Blunkett says:

The national identity cards scheme will give people confidence, convenience and security in an increasingly vital aspect of modern life � proving and protecting their identity.

Nothing more convenient than being stopped anywhere I may be and being forced to show a card proving that I’m not doing anything wrong – see that Spectator article from the current issue.

It will help tackle the activities of organised criminals and terrorists who depend on the use of multiple identities � identity cards will be a key part of the Government�s wide-ranging programme for tackling organised crime, at the centre of which will be the new Serious Organised Crime Agency

Yup – all those terrorists from 9/11 who weren’t known to the government. Er, none of them. Identity is not at issue with terrorists. In any case, what happens when some Saudi Arabian who has a visa comes to the UK supposedly to do a bit of shopping in Knightsbridge, but in fact to carry out a terrorist attack. ID Cards should prevent that shouldn’t they?

Identity cards will also help in the fight against illegal working and immigration and ensure public services are only used by those entitled to them

I’m pretty certain that all those employers who are currently illegally employing aliens who don’t have National Insurance Numbers will immediately cease their practices.

Safeguards to ensure protection of privacy are a critical part of the identity cards scheme. But our liberties will be strengthened, not weakened, by a universal scheme which ensures that all citizens� identities are protected from abuse.

Not sure how this will be any different from the case currently. Quite how my liberties are being strengthened by a large database having details about my every movement recorded, is something of a mystery.

Publication of the Bill marks a further step in the careful process of consultation and refinement which we began almost three years ago. This is an ambitious, long-term project and we are taking the time and care, drawing on outside expertise, to ensure we get it right.

That’ll be the consultation that saw more respondents oppose the ID Card scheme than report it. The one that resulted in opposition from such people as the president of the Law Society and the Assistant Information Commissioner.

Across the world, the international community is demanding more secure identity in travel documents � including the USA, where visitors will need a biometric passport or visa by October 2005. In a fast-changing world, a national identity cards scheme based on secure biometrics will ensure the UKremains [sic] at the forefront of these developments and our citizens retain the freedom to travel easily.

America wants us to have biometric passports, therefore we will have them.
Unsurpisingly, not one single good reason was made for introducing the most invasive scheme ever proposed by a British government.
This scheme will cost many many times the £3 billion being quoted since vast costs allied to the scheme have simply not been factored in. Gordon Brown must have been most remiss to let these slip through.
Last week I was castagating the Lords over the Hunting Bill. We must now turn to them to hold up and delay this pointless scaremongering legislation that is now the single factor that will never let me vote Labour again.

Radio Plays

I had a bit of a radio plays catchup at the weekend and was hunting around for a good site that regularly reviews radio plays. To be honest I was pretty unsuccessful. I regularly visit Off the Telly which has some excellent TV reviews and features, but I can’t find anything similar for radio.
I did stumble across this site which has a few radio reviews published every few months. And through that I discovered that Radio 4 had broadcast a play back in May called Einstein in Cromer. This caught my attention because Cromer’s a town on the North Norfolk coast near where my parents live and I’ve known the town for as long as I can remember – but I never knew that Einstein had visited. It turns out that he visited in 1933 when he was fleeing Germany. He stayed there for a month or so before heading off to a new life in America where his fame would increase even more so.
My radio recording regime, and the fact that I rarely delete stuff, meant that even though this play was broadcast back in May, I still had it sitting, unlistened to on my hard drive. It’s quite an entertaining fictionalised account of what Einstein might have been doing as he stayed in his small hut/chalet, with David ‘Poirot’ Suchet playing Einstein.
And in case you don’t believe me about radio plays, read this article by Adam Thorpe published a year or so ago, and then revel in the fact that Radio 3 has just recorded Neil Gaiman’s Mr Punch for broadcast next March.

The Charts/Top of the Pops

So it’s all change with both the Radio 1 chart show and Top of the Pops.
The chart show (remember, that’s the CHART show), is going make the chart countdown just a “minor part of a wider chart show”. Umm, right, yeah. Why exactly do people tune into a chart show? To find out where singles are placed in the chart, and to discover what’s number one. You also know that you’re going to hear all the said records, even the ones that mightn’t ordinarily get playlisted by Radio 1 (few though those might be). Someone also seems to have sold in to JK & Joel that getting just the one show a week rather than their previous two is somehow a good thing.
In the meantime, Top of the Pops is getting sidelined over to BBC 2. And it’s being moved to Sundays. It’s unclear at the moment where exactly it’ll sit, but the official press release talks of it being in an extended foramt. I imagine that it’ll follow on sometime after the chart has been announced on Radio 1 at 7.00pm. But then they’ll have to do that week’s charts which means that the whole recording process and live studio audience will have to change considering that they’d then have to either have live links or make the whole show live – surely unllikely. Obviously there’ll be strong cross-promotional opportunities.

Blunkett

The more you hear about David Blunkett, the more there is do dislike. I’ve not really paid any attention up and until now to what he’s done in his private life, but the fact is that it’s very messy – too messy for a Home Secretary, many would argue.
I don’t know if he did or didn’t fast track a visa for his lover’s nanny, but the fact of the matter is that it’s not exactly edifying.
This is the man who wants to turn us into a police state. He can expect much more investigation into his alleged wrongdoings. And that’s fair enough in my view, since his ID card scheme and more importantly, the massive database that will underlie it, will make other people lose their privacy in a very similar manner.

Boris on ID Cards

Spectator Cover
There may be a specil Boris Tribute issue of Private Eye this week, but he can speak some sense. (The Spectator article referred to by Boris is, for the time being, here – free registration required)
[Why isn’t the image here showing up in Internet Explorer? It seems to be working OK in Firefox and Opera, so what’s up?]

Playing With Fire

I think Playing With Fire is something like book number fourteen in the Inspector Banks series and it’s the latest edition out in paperback. Banks is on the case of an arsonist who’s killed two people in a barge fire as the novel starts. As usual, we get to meet a colourful handful of likely candidates and there are a few twists before a few hundred pages later we reach a conclusion.
I’ve now read the last five novels, and there’s a new hardback out in January, while I’ve missed a non-Banks paperback (the Amazon review that’s there at the moment doesn’t make it likely I’ll be rushing either), and we’re still due a mass market paperback edition of some collected stories that were published a couple of months ago.
Why all this publishing at the same time? Well this story from earlier in the year goes some way to explaining it. Despite his phenomenal sales, Robinson hasn’t actually had all his books published yet in the UK (he resides in Canada). I don’t know if there’s a time limit that Pan Macmillan are working to, but it must have something to do with it all.
But back to the book. I did enjoy it, but I just felt that some things seemed to be mentioned a couple too many times. It’s almost as if we’re hostage to some of the slow readers at the back of the class who may not recall something that happened a hundred pages earlier. But I’ll be reading the next Banks novel, and have plenty of back copies to get through.
Incidentally, I think that my reading this is testament to the fact that Ottakers occassional 99p book promotions really do work!