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May 012017
 

With an election coming up it is time to try and persuade those who do not vote to get out there and vote. One of the main reasons people give for not voting is because none of the candidates are inspiring enough. Well it is all very well waiting for a candidate that inspires you, but you could well be waiting for a very long time.

Probably the second biggest reason for not voting is that with the first past the post system, there are places where voting for anyone other than the leading candidate is seen as a wasted vote. Nothing could be further from the truth! In almost every “safe” seat, if everyone who didn’t vote for the leading candidate all voted for an agreed alternative, then the seat could easily go to that alternative candidate. For example, the Arundel and South Downs constituency was won with 32 thousand votes in a constituency of nearly 100,000 – easily enough to overturn the Tory majority.

As to tactical voting: It can be summed up by selecting the candidate you would most like to lose (such as the Tory candidate), and picking the candidate most likely to defeat them.

Anyone can find out the last few election results (and a whole lot more) at http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/. Just look at the last few elections and vote for the second placed candidate (providing that’s not a Tory or a UKIP candidate of course!). And don’t keep punishing the Liberals for breaking their promises; they don’t break their promises any more than the others.

Of course this may mean you are not voting for the candidate you want, but under the present voting system it makes more sense to vote against the candidate you dislike the most. Yes this is crazy, but so is using a voting system first used in the medieval era!

Apr 222017
 

May continue to cut public sector salaries year on year.

May continue to pillage the public services we all use to pay for the bankers mistakes.

May continue to make tax cuts for the rich.

May continue to cut welfare payments to the poorest families in our society causing a huge increase in child poverty.

May continue to stumble and fumble around during the Brexit negotiations in all likelihood resulting in a poor deal for Britain.

May continue to antagonise the non-English countries of the union increasing the likelihood of a break-up.

May continue to add powers to the secret policemen until we’re living in a police state (hint: it’s not that far off).

Time to look past May to June and choosing anyone other than May.

Oct 312016
 

It is getting pretty boring listening to all the remain supporters whine about the result of the ‘recent’ (well to an old fart like me anyway) referendum. It’s done; time to move on – it may have been the dumbest decision the public have made since electing Thatcher, but it’s still done.

But that’s not the end of it; it’s just the beginning.

The first thing to say is that the politicians are lying (not difficult to ascertain; their lips were moving) when they say they have a clear mandate for Brexit. With a referendum result as close as the one we have just had – 51.9% in favour of leaving and 48.1% in favour of remaining – we have a clearly divided country with a not insignificant minority who want to remain within the EU.

Does that mean we should ignore the result? Of course not (written with gritted teeth), but neither should we ignore the fact that there is a significant minority of voters who want us to remain. This should have an effect on the negotiating position – having what is effectively a weak mandate for Brexit should be a reasonable excuse to aim for “Brexit light”. Something like the Norway model.

Is this going to keep the leavers happy? No, but neither is leaving the EU going to make the remain supporters happy. And the only sensible course is something that leaves everyone mildly discontent rather than seriously piss off one side or the other.

And it’s time for the remain supporters to start work on getting back into Europe; just as the leavers started campaigning after they lost the last referendum.

The New Defence

The New Defence

Oct 302016
 

Of course it isn’t; it’s England (I’m English).

It’s all very patriotic to claim your country is the greatest on earth, but it also indicates an immense level of smug complacency. If you live in the greatest country on earth there is no reason to look at your country and see what to do better.

Some questions to ask yourself about your country :-

  1. Where does your country fit in the list of infant mortality?
  2. How free is your country according to the Press Freedom Index?
  3. What ranking does your country get in the list of life expectancy?
  4. How evenly is wealth distributed?

Now you might not agree with my list of how well a country is doing (and mine isn’t necessarily the same as the one above), and I may well disagree with your list vehemently. But that is beside the point – choose your list of what you think is important in a country, assess your country’s level, and then decide if your country is the greatest, or whether it could do better.

stack-of-coins-p1

Sep 212016
 

In England and Wales, there is no such thing as Common-Law Marriage, except when there is.

Which basically comes down to the fact that courts accept informal marriages where there was no other choice – the example on the Wikipedia page is of prisoners held by the Japanese who could not marry according to the formal process.

So where did the notion of common-law marriage come from? That Wikipedia page claims that it was some sort of group-think mistake made in the 1970s … well perhaps.

In fact, Scotland (until 2006) had something that would in England be called ‘common-law marriage’, and England in all likelihood had something equivalent even if the lawyers claim there was no such thing as “common-law marriage”.  They are right to a certain extent, but the history of marriage law in England is byzantine and twisted.

Details of what happened in England regarding marriage before the christian church came to dominance is shrouded in mystery, but in all likelihood marriage was a legally binding contract initiated by oath (it should be noted that an old form of the marriage vow includes the phrase “I plight my troth” and the word “plight” is the Old English word for oath). For those who are suspicious of a simple sworn oath being the basis for a marriage should note that in Anglo-Saxon times, the sworn oath was a fundamental building block of society, and nobody was lower than an oath-breaker.

One indicator of this are the marriage vows; a pompous religious or civil official may pronounce “You are now married” or even “I declare you married”, but the important part of the ceremony are the vows that the two people swear to each other.

In the early medieval era, the state had no time for laws regarding marriage – it was still effectively a private contract between individuals. The church on the other hand took in interest in dealing with abuses – bigamy, fornication, prevented forced marriage (probably not entirely successfully), etc. But the church could not and did not perform marriages; marriages would often be “blessed” within the church, but marriages themselves took place outside.

One of the important principles established was that an illegal marriage was still a marriage.

The church took control of marriage after the Council of Trent, and declared that no marriage was legal unless it took place within a church and the ceremony was performed by a priest. Yet in all likelihood ‘irregular marriages’ still took place especially when extra-parochial areas, or remote under-served parishes were considered (some remote areas in the North could see a priest as little as once a decade or longer).

And of course getting married required money – the priest would insist on his cut as payment for his services. So the poor probably carried on doing what their ancestors had done, and simply declared they were married and got on with it.

The state took over marriage law in 1753, in an attempt to combat “clandestine marriages” (it didn’t entirely succeed; those in need of such marriages merely eloped to Scotland where the law on marriage was more relaxed), and it is often said that this act abolished common-law marriage.

It didn’t. There was no such thing.

A 15th century marriage was legally nothing more than a contract as in an agreement to supply certain goods in exchange for land. It looked like common-law marriage, and it would not be too surprising if rumours of how marriage used to be persists down to the present day. Especially when you consider that a significant number of non-conformists who avoided CoE churches would have been ‘married by consent’ rather than ‘married in law’.

So what does this matter? Well apart from being historically interesting, it is important to note that unless you are officially married then you do not have the legal rights of marriage. So those who believe in ‘common-law marriage’ are welcome to continue to do so, but should bear in mind that it has no legal status.

 

marriage-bw

 

Nov 102013
 

There is war memorial near to where my parents live which is a little bit special. It is a memorial put up by local people, but unlike other it is not a memorial to the local people who died in the first world war (which were later amended to include those from the second world war) but to commemorate all those young men who marched past on their way to the battlefields of the first world war.

You see, the place where it is overlooks what is now the M3 but used to be a smaller road leading to the same place … the port of Southampton which was the embarkation point of so many young men heading to the battlefields of the first world war.

Shawford Down War Memorial

Whilst it is no grand memorial, it does deserve to be a little better known.

Nov 102013
 

Today (at least it is when I’m writing this) is Remembrance Sunday in the UK; traditionally a day to commemorate the sacrifice of ordinary men in the two world wars.

I did not watch the ceremony at The Cenotaph, or attend any of the more local ceremonies, although I have in the past. But one thing that is a noticeable change since my childhood – there is a much greater emphasis on the sacrifices made by our armed forces in all wars up to and including the present.

Fair enough; I don’t have a problem with commemorating the war dead from any war, but the the armed forces already have a day – Armed Forces Day – and Remembrance Sunday is special. It is special because it remembers the two world wars when ordinary men were called to service in their droves; whereas other wars involved soldiers, sailors, and airmen who had chosen to be shot at for a living.

Before WWI, there was nothing like Remembrance Sunday despite all the wars that the UK fought before – nothing for the Boer War, the Crimean War, the Napoleonic Wars, and nothing before. There were war memorials constructed – as a resident of Portsmouth, I can visit an unusually large number, but as for national ceremonies … excluding the burial of heros such as Nelson, they had to wait until after WWI.

Perhaps we need to move the Armed Forces Day to next to Remembrance Sunday to more clearly distinguish between the two days.

Perhaps we also need to make the commemorations somewhat less military in nature – encourage those whose relatives served in the two world wars to attend in place of them. After all the number of world war veterans is dwindling; it won’t be too long before none of them are left, and it would be a great shame to leave Remembrance Sunday to the politicians and the present-day military.

 

Sep 292013
 

Who decides whether or not to hold a public inquiry? The government of course, and they usually make their decision on the cost of a public inquiry.

But it is rather convenient when a public inquiry delves into embarrassing subjects such as :-

Never mind the fact there has been no public inquiry into political corruption after the MPs expenses scandal. Which all goes to show that we cannot trust the government to investigate themselves. Or the police: Look at how hard people have had to work at getting at the truth behind the Hillsborough disaster.

Or in other words, we cannot trust the government to determine whether public inquiries should be held, nor the scope of those inquires. Whilst the government usually does reasonable work in setting up public inquiries, and the reason for refusing to establish public inquiries is down to cost, it is not unreasonable to plan for the worst case scenario where a future government may refuse to establish an inquiry to conceal their own bad deeds.

As such the decision of what public inquiries should proceed should be in hands of a third party. An independent third party with no past or present politicians, senior policepersons, etc. Essentially a panel of the powerless.

Aug 192013
 

No.

Anyone who thinks so needs to read a bit of history on what life was like in real police states.

But on a day when news of an incident where a journalist was detained for 9 hours and his electronic media confiscated, we do have to ask ourselves whether we are headed in that direction. And whether we really want to go in that direction.

David Miranda was held under anti-terrorist legislation – specifically schedule 7 – in what was clearly an attempt at harassment for publishing stories embarrassing the UK and US governments. Now the victim here is clearly a journalist, and whilst it is possible for a journalist to be involved in terrorism, I really rather doubt this one has time to be particularly active at this time. This is a high profile case, but how many of the 61,145 other suspects detained under schedule 7 last year were detained for non-terrorism purposes?

Anti-terrorism legislation is very powerful, and whilst it may be justified to tackle terrorism, it certainly must not be used for other purposes. And in this case it was.

And undoubtedly we will have some sort of review of the case, a lot of noise, and very little action. It’s almost certain that the police who detained David Miranda will escape scot free, or with a notional slap on the wrist, and not with a prison sentence that they deserve.

Jun 082013
 

Which is news how exactly? Spying on us is what the NSA and GCHQ are for.

Over the last day or two, we have been hearing more and more of the activities of the NSA (here) and GCHQ (here) spying on “us” (for variable definitions of that word). Specifically on a programme called PRISM which monitors Internet traffic between the US and foreign nations, but not on communications internal to the US.

Various Internet companies have denied being involved, but :-

  1. They would have to deny involvement as any arrangement between the NSA and the company is likely to be covered by heavyweight laws regarding the disclosure of information about it.
  2. It’s also worth noting that they have asked the company executives whether they are involved in PRISM, but not asked every engineer within the company; it is doubtful in the extreme that any company executive knows everything that happens within their company. And an engineer asked to plumb in a data tap under the banner of national security is not likely to talk about it to the company executive; after all the law trumps company policy.
  3. The list of companies that have been asked, and have issued denials is a list of what the general public think of as the Internet, but in fact none of the companies are tier-1 NSP; whilst lots of interesting data could be obtained from Google, any mass surveillance programme would start with the big NSPs.

What seems to have been missed is the impact of agreements such as the UKUSA agreement on signals intelligence; the NSA is “hamstrung” (in their eyes) by being forbidden by law from spying on US domestic signals, but they are not forbidden to look at signals intelligence provided by GCHQ and visa-versa. Which gives both agencies “plausible deniability” in that they can legitimately claim that they are not spying on people from their own country whilst neglecting to mention that they make use of intelligence gathered by their opposite number.

There is some puzzlement that PRISM’s annual cost is just $20 million a year; there is really a rather obvious reason for this … and it also explains why none of the tier-1 NSPs have been mentioned so far either. Perhaps PRISM is an extension of an even more secret surveillance operation. They built (and maintain) the costly infrastructure for surveillance targeting the tier-1 NSPs and extended it with PRISM. In particular, the growing use of encryption means that surveillance at the tier-1 NSPs would be getting less and less useful (although traffic analysis can tell you a lot) making the “need” for PRISM a whole lot more necessary.

As it turns out there is evidence for this hypothesis.

But Are They Doing Anything Wrong?

Undoubtedly, both the NSA and GCHQ will claim what they are doing is within the law, and in the interests of national security. They may well be right. But unless we know exactly what they are doing, it is impossible to judge if their activities are within the law or not. And just because something is legal does not necessarily make it right.

Most people would probably agree that a mass surveillance programme may be justified if the aim is to prevent terrorism, but we don’t know that their aims are limited to that. The surveillance is probably restricted to subjects of “national interest”, but who determines what is in the national interest? Just because we think it is just about terrorism, war, and espionage doesn’t mean it is so. What is to stop the political masters of the NSA or GCHQ from declaring that it is in the national interest to spy on those involved with protests against the government, or those who vote against the government, or those who talk about taxation (i.e. tax avoidance/evasion)?

Spying is a slippery slope: It was not so very long a ago that a forerunner of the NSA was shut down by the US president of the day because “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”. But intelligence is a tool that is so useful that more and more invasive intelligence methods become acceptable. It is all too easy to imagine how today’s anti-terrorist surveillance can become tomorrow’s 1984-like society.

That does not means that GCHQ should not investigate terrorism, but that it should do so in a way that we can be sure that it does not escalate into more innocent areas. Perhaps we should be allowing GCHQ to pursue surveillance, but that it should be restricted to a specified list of topics.

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