Category Archives: rants
As I wrote in my last post, EDF has been particularly problematic. Communication channels exist but don’t work properly: chat failed when I lost the connection, and email seems to reach people who can’t or won’t read it. Neither does their payment appear to work, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
My previous experience as an EDF customer (2005-2013) was problem-free: I paid by direct debit, and the (informational) quarterly bills were admirably well-presented. I don’t recollect ever having to contact them: I guess I must have done when I moved in and out, but it must have been too simple to be memorable.
This time I moved in without knowing the incumbent supplier of my house. I looked it up on the Western Power Distribution website and found it’s EDF. So I went to their website and looked for how to contact them. I found an online chat facility. My chat request was answered reasonably quickly. In a fairly long session I confirmed that EDF was my supplier, and gave my name, the date of my move, and my initial readings. I lost the session when my internet connection dropped, so I just had to hope they’d act on the information I’d given.
They didn’t. Next contact with them was a bill, addressed not to me but to the owner or occupier, with (tiny) errors in the moving in date and wholly unrealistic “estimated” meter readings. The bill is also hopelessly confusing: a period of less than two months is split into no fewer than five different periods, for no reason I can discern.
Evidently my chat had failed to communicate. I looked at their website for other means to communicate, but found none except chat or phone – which is of course altogether worse. So I tried chat again, but instead of going through all the details and risking a repeat of last time, I asked for an email address. My chat assistant told me there isn’t a general one, but gave me his own @edf address. So I wrote to him with my details, which I assumed should be sufficient to get me “on the system”. That included up-to-date meter readings as well as the initial ones.
Next I heard, another bill, again addressed to “owner or occupier”. Email hadn’t worked either. I looked once again for methods of communication, and failing again to find anything like an email address or contact form, I turned to Complaints. Aha, there’s an email address. I email them complaining of the difficulty of contacting them, and append my previous email with my details and meter readings.
This one they half-read. A reply apologised, and said they’d get me on the system:
I am sorry for the inconvenience caused. We have updated the records and created an account on your name with effect from 23 August . Also registered your detail online so you will soon receive an email with “Add password” option. You can access the online account following the instruction on the email in detail. We will also send you a welcome pack soon.
The promised email never arrived. But another bill followed, this time with my name and moving in date. And another, for the period from my vendor’s last reading to my moving in date: I guess the date I should have given was the date I bought the house (which fell between the two), but let’s not complicate things further until I’m on the bloomin’ system!
With a bill in my own name, I guess I could now have set up an account online. But I was still waiting for their promised email about it, and I was p***ed off that they had ignored my meter readings and sent ludicrous “estimates” again. So I fired off another email asking after the followup and readings.
Thank you for your reply.
I have yet to receive the promised email with the “Add password” option. When can I expect it?
I now have a bill in my name, but it is still “estimated”. Given that you can accept my name from the email I sent, why are you ignoring the readings (included once more in the quoted correspondence below)?
The reply to this one is surreal:
I would have been happy to help you with the query. But I would request you to please provide us the query so that we can help you with the information.
My followup repeated the questions as numbered points – and again included all previous correspondence, but got no reply whatsoever. A few days later I got automated email and a letter both telling me payment was overdue. I again fired off email, getting yet more exasperated:
> On 28 Nov 2019, at 10:01, EDF Energy wrote:
> Your bill is now overdue, please pay today.
I know I have a bill.
I have tried to contact you multiple times over the past three months. I have sent you readings, which you have ignored several times.
In your email reply dated November 7th, you promised a followup email which would get me set up online. I have yet to receive that followup.
When I chased that followup on November 19th and again on the 20th, I got no reply beyond the automated “We aim to respond to your email within the next 24 hours.”
To be fair, that one did get a meaningful reply. But I’ve had enough: I need to switch supplier. In retrospect I should have accepted SSE’s offer to supply my new address when I terminated supply at my old address.
But I suspect I won’t be able to switch while I have an outstanding bill, even if I’m still battling to get a correct bill (which of course I’d be happy to pay). I go to try and sign up online, and find they can identify me from my email address alone. Evidently something has got through from all that correspondence, but most readers of this blog won’t need me to point out the security whopper! I read the meters again and entered updated readings, but there’s no facility to enter or correct any historic detail. Nor can I request they issue a corrected bill: I’ll just have to wait and see what happens there.
After another day mulling it over, I decide just to pay their “estimate”. I log in again, select “make a payment” from the menu, and accept the amount of their bill. I then enter my card details, only to find the next problem: it takes me to a “verified by visa” screen which spins for a moment, then tells me it’s timed out. So that’s Schrödinger’s payment: I’ve no idea whether it’s succeeded until I see it (or not) on my card statement. Or until EDF thank or chase me, but I’m not holding my breath for any sense from them!
Today I visited uswitch and fed a bunch of their numbers into a spreadsheet. Looks as if Eon offer the best deal at my address, due to a much lower standing charge than anyone else. Let’s hope I can switch and they prove less of a nightmare!
Is it just me, or is it becoming ever harder to communicate with officialdom? That is, both officialdom as in government services, and private-sector service providers such as utilities?
My house move has thrown up several examples, ranging from the painless to the deeply frustrating (though none so Kafkaesque as Virgin Media). Time to record a few cases.
Good: National Government. The process to get on the electoral register was updated between the 2005 and 2010 elections, and now works well. Registering at my new address was quick and painless – though probably (still) wide open to fraud.
Painful: Local Government. Signing off from Plymouth was painless, but West Devon has got much worse since I was previously here. Specifically, their website is now dysfunctional and won’t work without severely compromising one’s own security. I can sign up, but attempting to log in just dumps me at a third-party site that appears to be an identity service provider – but I have no way of verifying that, nor anything I can do even if I do decide to trust them!
So when they demand Council Tax, I can’t log in to set up payment. And there’s no contact information for council tax: their “contact us” offers a bunch of specific services, but no catch-all to contact them on a matter not listed, like how to pay them! It took two visits to their office in person and a letter written to them on paper to sort that.
Still worse was recycling. My request for the relevant recycling bins was submitted several times online and once in person at their offices, but fell into a black hole. Eventually (on a friend’s suggestion) I wrote to my elected councilors, who told the council jobsworths to do their job, whereupon the boxes were finally – three months from my first request – forthcoming.
Amongst utilities, Southwest Water was relatively painless. My first attempt failed on some website idiocy, but that was when my ‘net connection was down to 2G so it was a cup-of-coffee delay as it insisted on my changing “7” to “07” (or something) in a Date field. Returning a second time when it was back up to 4G, it still exhibited idiocy, but at least worked to the point of letting me notify them of my move and submit meter readings. Best of all, no need to change my existing direct debit just because it’s a different address.
At my previous address I had gas and electricity from SSE. Notifying them of my move was painless, and in retrospect I should have accepted their (automatic) offer to supply the new address. But I assumed I could sort that later.
Looking at the Western Power Distribution website, I found the incumbent supplier for my house is EDF. I was a happy customer of EDF from 2005 to 2013 (i.e. my entire time at the address I lived longer than anywhere else), and expected no problem. But it turned out to be another epic story, and one that merits a separate post that’ll make better reading than this TLDR. Suffice it for to say that today I’ve decided to give up the struggle and pay an incorrect bill, just to draw a line under it and move on with another provider.
One more minor epic was my internet connection. On finding that my 4G connection only half-works from here, I signed up for FTTC with Andrews and Arnold, with a view to a longer-term project of bringing some stuff in-house from the Cloud. Due to various issues, some of them genuinely outside the control of either A&A or Openreach, it was three visits over more than a month, and something of a battle, from when I should have had my connection to when it actually went live. Disappointed with the poor communication from A&A over much of that time.
Finally a good news story. Having blown my money on a house, I no longer have £20k cash to keep in a Santander 123 account. At £5/month charge, it could even end up costing me money with smaller balances! After a bit of online research, I opened a new account with Starling Bank, and after verifying that it worked I instructed them to transfer my Santander account. That ran genuinely smoothly, with not just my money but also payees and references moved automatically. Even Santander were polite about it, with no annoying “Customer Retention” crap when they wrote to confirm the closure.
I’ve been meaning to have a good rant about this ever since Private Eye surpassed itself with that utterly brilliant headline The Ego has Landed in its Loon Landing Edition, blending the two topical stories of the ascent of Boris and the moon landing anniversary.
Not so long ago I thought May making him Foreign Secretary was a stroke of genius: surely the national embarrassment of so many idiocies would save us from seeing him as the next Prime Minister. The stark revelation of that classic public school trope, the Bully and Coward, certainly cured me of what remained of my one-time admiration for him. But I was wrong: he (like Flashman) has momentum, and Boris’s Momentum is a lot more powerful than Corbyn’s, so it can purge its party of all opposition.
So what’s he doing now? Apart from threatening us with national perdition while waving a Magic Money Tree that would shame Labour’s wildest promises? I think the whole key to it is, provoke the opposition into making itself look bad. And not just the opposition: there’s the media, the judiciary. Either you’re with us or you’re part of a great conspiracy. With his media background, not as reporter (where an effort to tell the truth would be expected) but as a successful columnist, he knows how to pull the strings of both the media and of the public. Or rather, in the latter case, his tribe.
Thus on brexit, keep them guessing. He has to request an extension, what will he do? If the EU see nothing coherent in UK politics – no plan that a sufficiently-united opposition might conceivably pursue – why would they agree to prolonging the agony? And who are the opposition? Two Labour parties that hate each other, Libdems who won’t go near Corbyn, and a handful of others including Tory rebels who. Shouldn’t be too hard to keep them from presenting a credible alternative. The Scots Nats valiantly try a constructive proposition (Corbyn on a very short leash), but even that fails to gain traction.
Meanwhile Boris presents himself as a tribal leader, shorn of any pretence of admitting contrary voices such as those of other tribes in ‘his’ nation. He’s seen that succeed elsewhere, albeit usually with ugly consequences (including Northern Ireland – the part of the UK with a strongly tribal recent history). He’s an obvious master of the dead cat, not least in the stories about sexual misdemeanours that play right into his hands by sending the Chattering Classes into a frenzy while being insufficiently serious for normal people to care. I thought (and nearly blogged) about the Carrie row during the leadership contest, which looked staged to provoke excess outrage and collect a sympathy vote. A few of these stories, and even if the next one were were a credible accusation of actual rape, who would believe it after so much fuss?
On the subject of brexit, the differing opposition attitudes are interesting but unhelpful. Libdems seek a mandate to stop it outright, but they’re too far from a ‘main party’ for that to be realistic. Corbyn presents a coherent plan – to do what Cameron should have done in the first place and present a referendum on an actual plan rather than a blank slate – but his party won’t unite and the media tell us it’s unclear. Looks like too little, too late. And – crucially – while they’re all panicking about WTF Boris might do (possibly in defiance of the law), they’re not uniting around a coherent plan, and what the world sees is headless chickens.
A grand narrative of a PM implementing the “will of the people” against a great conspiracy (conveniently forgetting of course that his predecessor would have delivered brexit if her own party hadn’t voted it down). These past few weeks have given me an insight into how the world got “Democratic Peoples Republic“s: someone pursued an agenda with a genuine belief that it was the “will of the people”, and gradually dispensed with all opposition that comes from democratic checks-and-balances.
As for the latest row over language? There’s another brilliant dead cat. The “surrender act” is nasty, but Labour hasn’t got a leg to stand on in criticising it: that kind of language has been their own bread-and-butter for longer than I can remember. On the other hand – and what finally provoked me into a rant about it, Boris’s rabble-rousing conference speech to his acolytes was seriously scary. If we put aside alarming precedents from within living memory, it was at the very least a conscious effort to cast his opponents as turbulent priests: serious intimidation.
Indeed, one striking aspect of politics today is how the Tories have taken on Labour’s mantle. In my youth it was Thatcher who talked mostly sense while Labour pursued tribal dogma in the name of socialism; now it’s Boris’s fanatics who are putting quasi-religious dogma ahead of the country’s interests in the name of ‘the people’. That’s deeper than just stealing Labour’s spending mantle to try and crowd them out, or provoke them to yet-more-loony promises.
What will happen at halloween? If I could get instant information, I’d be watching the hedge funds’ bets. Especially those that help bankroll Boris and the Party, or are controlled by or closely connected to government insiders like Rees-Mogg and Leadsom. They remember how Soros made gazillions betting against Blighty in 1992, but perhaps conveniently overlook the fact that he at least wasn’t doing so as a government insider.
How does a lapsed mathematician describe crowds on a beach? I shall come to the pseudo-mathematical observation in due course, but first a little recollection and rant.
I’ve just been visiting my dad. He’s in Brighton (or Hove, if you’re local enough to the area to have heard of it). That’s the south coast of England, directly south from London. Though he’s several blocks back from the sea front, it’s an easy walk to the beach.
Like the rest of Blighty, it was hot, dry and sunny. It has been like that almost uninterrupted since about early May, which makes this an exceptional summer (our weather -in all seasons – is normally much more mixed). I took advantage of that to go down to the beach for a swim every day: Brighton and Hove have a huge amount of public beach, endowed by nature with benign conditions, meaning no natural hazards unless you count the power of the waves breaking in rough weather.
I tend to prefer it a little cloudier, cooler, wetter, as that’ll leave the beach a little less busy. But this time I was pleasantly surprised: only on the Sunday was it truly ghastly. I guess there’s been so much high-summer weather the novelty’s worn off. So all in all, the most pleasurable week of beach I’ve had in a long time. But I was struck by two rather gratuitously restrictive (and widely ignored) notices on the wide paved promenade:
- No cycling
- Keep dogs on leads
Now I was there with neither bike nor dog, so have no axe to grind. Nevertheless I find those notices stupid and mildly annoying in such a huge wide open space. So I took it upon myself to make a mental note of such real nuisances as I encountered to blight my time there. Let’s see where bikes and dogs figure in such a list. In order of nuisance (with the first two overwhelmingly the Big Ones):
Far and away the biggest nuisance was the barbecues. The pervasive miasma of thick, greasy smoke blights a huge area: not just the beach but also the promenade, and including the main road where it competes with the fumes of heavy traffic. There are “no barbecues” notices on some sections of beach, but that’s about as effective as 1980s trains that had “no smoking” in half a carriage while the other half was full of smokers.
The other nuisance to blight an area well beyond the perpetrator, though far less than a barbecue. Come to think of it, the worst instance was a car radio. It was parked with the occupants inside, with a thumping bass audible from a lot further away than the car could be seen. But that was a one-off.
There were relatively few smokers, and subjectively seemed to be divided 50/50 between the twin nasties of tobacco and pot. This was, however, a very minor nuisance: only on the last day was the weather such as to allow the stench to blight a slightly wider area, so that I’d be suffering it for more than a couple of seconds.
Not dogs – on or off the lead. Nor humans. But dog leads are a bit of a hazard. And on the last day there were some characters out there with the more insidious hazard: the stealth tripwire – aka fishing line.
- Beach Patrol
Two guys on annoying “quad bikes”, trailing noise, fumes, and ugly tracks on the beach. Surely if there’s a beach patrol and it needs more mobility than a pair of legs, they should have honest bikes. With MTB wheels for the beach.
Not much litter: there seem to be folks cleaning the beach. But still annoying when something like a crisp packet did appear. Ditto some other things like the smell of suncream on some people.
As you can tell, we’re running into the realms of the utterly non-serious here, so let’s have a final entry that could easily have appeared higher up:
- Transport and Toys
There were lots of cyclists, and lots of boats. That is, inoffensive boats like rowing boats, canoes, and various boards. Over eight days, the total annoyance amounted to no more than two cyclists (one looking at his phone not where he was going, the other just inconsiderate) and one boat I had to evade. In other words, a huge majority were entirely considerate and well-behaved.
So it seems those prohibited things really don’t make it onto the scale of nuisance at all. How depressing that someone’s priorities are so desperately warped.
OK, enough rant. I’m supposed to have an insightful observation, right. OK, here goes.
A bathing beach is saturated if the crowd is such that both
(a) Open-ish spaces are sufficiently limited that you actively look for the best available.
(b) As you approach your best-available space, someone else gets there first, having had the same idea ahead of you.
The measure of saturation is how many times you repeat step (b).
Happy to say it was surprisingly non-saturated over this past week.
Time to go public here. This is one of many matters I’ve been meaning to blog about but wasn’t getting around to. But this deserves to be on record somewhere public, and I don’t want to rely on Virgin’s forum where I have been posting it.
My broadband service from Virgin has been misbehaving again. I’m not sure when it started: it was sometime last year I found myself frequently getting very poor VOIP call quality, which in retrospect was probably a symptom. Other visible symptoms of the boiling frog included timeouts on the web, and from my mailer.
It’s slightly reminiscent of my previous troubles with Virgin , a nightmare that bears re-reading. In some ways not as bad: I haven’t had extended complete cut-offs. But in other ways worse: it was bad enough running the gamut of menus and adverts trying to phone them before, but this time that’s been replaced with an “on hold” noise that’s some yob screaming extremely aggressively: the kind of thing you’d beat a hasty retreat from if you heard it coming from a nearby street. I didn’t catch any words, but the sound was a most emphatic “F*** OFF”.
Anyway, visiting the website, I find there’s no way to file a support ticket, only supposedly-interactive ways to call them, and a community forum. The interactive ways don’t work, as will become clear below.
The Forum – once I’ve signed up (groan) – does work, and gets me some helpful replies. But these aren’t from Virgin, they’re just members of the public. My thread “Contacting Virgin” there tells the story. This morning, one post was removed from there. Not an important post, but if they can remove that then I reckon it’s time to copy the important contents, and not just to the saved page I already have. So here goes. My posts verbatim; replies omitted in case any other poster might be bothered by copyright on their words.
Jan. 30th: 15:53
I have a problem with virgin broadband: it’s very slow (less than 1% of the theoretical speed) and so intermittent that many things are simply timing out, and phone (VOIP) has become unusable.
So I tried to contact Virgin. First online, where it tells me their support team are unavailable (yes, this is within the opening hours advertised – most recently today about 15:20). Then by (mobile) ‘phone, where after 4 minutes of menus it puts me indefinitely on hold. Then today I went in person into a Virgin shop, where the staff could (or would) do absolutely nothing, and wouldn’t even let me try to ‘phone customer support from there.
How the **** do I contact them?
I have just now taken the precaution of cancelling my direct debit. Maybe that’ll prompt them to contact me?
[first reply tells me I have contacted them by posting, but it’ll take “about a week”, and advises me to post some info from my router]
Jan 30th: 17:06 (as I was about to head out):
Thanks Tony. Yes, I’m at my desk, working wired (I use wireless too, but not for things like speedtest). Both are equally affected.
Sadly this editor won’t accept cut&paste from my router’s status pages. Well, actually it looks fine when I paste it in and in preview, but then rejects it when I try to post. I may try again later, but not now.
I could add my earlier experience of Virgin failing here, especially https://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/cut-off-again/
Feb 8th: 08:32
Well, my broadband appears to be back. In fact, it’s faster than it’s ever been before, or than I ever asked for: http://www.speedtest.net/result/7040027720 . In fact I seem to recollect that when the man from Virgin came to install my kit for a 30 Mb/s connection, he mentioned explicitly throttling something back for that.
That (still) doesn’t resolve the issue of contacting Virgin. If it’s pure coincidence that they fixed it after my attempts to contact them. that leaves me in limbo again next time something fails. Alternatively, if something I did (like my session with their menus from the mobile phone, or my posting here) prompted them to fix it silently, that’s an extremely unsatisfactory way to treat clients.
Either way, there needs to be a way to contact Virgin and get either a fix or at least an acknowledgement that a fault has been logged and will be checked out, rather than leave a customer in limbo! Not to mention an acknowledgement of known faults on Virgin’s status pages (this fault may have been unknown to Virgin until my attempts to contact them, but the one that led to my blog post referenced above was certainly known to them).
Tony, do you act for Virgin here, or am I still completely un-acknowledged by the company?
[another helpful reply telling me – among other things – this forum is the best way to contact virgin and suggesting 7-10 days for a reply from staff]
Feb. 16th, 22:44 (after nasty email from their billing)
No contact here after two and a half weeks. Perhaps I have to go to ofcom?
(Ofcom website tells me there’s an ombudsman, but I have to wait 8 weeks before trying them).
Feb 16th, 23:05 (after an attempt to reply to billing unsurprisingly bounced).
Seems I can’t reply to their email, either. So for the record, here’s what I just tried to send. There’s a “contact us” link in their email, but that just brings me straight back here!
On Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:50:08 +0000
“Virgin Media” <Letters@virginmediacollections.co.uk> wrote:
> Important information about your Virgin Media Account
> Account Number: ********
> Overdue Balance: £33.23
I have no idea if this address reaches a real human, but
I shall reply in the hope that it does.
I need to be able to contact Virgin Media concerning my
service. I have tried in various ways, without success.
Please see my thread at
At the time of the original problem, or probably even of
that post, I’d have accepted being able to get through to
a call centre droid. I think now it’s gone beyond that,
and I’d be looking to speak to a real person, and to
get at least an apology for the lack of service.
Another helpful reply commenting on the difficulty contacting them, and concluding with a paragraph that really, really deserves reproducing here:
A cynic might conclude they do not want to make it easy and do not want you to have any record of their statements, but surely that is just being paranoid?
Note, the three replies mentioned above are all from different posters. What they have in common is forum labels describing them respectively as “Superuser”, “Super Solver” and “Knows their stuff”. I presume those labels are based on their track records in Virgin’s fora.
Getting up to date, here’s Feb. 19th, 10:31:
They’ve just ticked another box in a diabolical blame game.
That is to say, half an hour ago, I got a call to my mobile ‘phone, showing the caller as Virgin Media. When I answered, it wasn’t a human, but a robotic voice asking questions to answer on the keypad.
Question 1: am I me? Press 1 for yes. OK so far.
Question 2: enter some password. Erm, WTF? Even if I had a clue what password they’re talking about, how likely is it I’d have it to hand at the moment they call me?
So now they’ve ticked a box. Call the customer, check. Customer confirms identity, check. But customer hangs up. How many customers could hope to explain that to any kind of adjudicator without appearing now to be firmly in the wrong?
Well, if anyone’s still reading, thank you. I hope you’re duly amused. I shall aim to update here as and when things happen, but no promises. I do still have a 4G device, which is a faff to use but means at least I’m not completely reliant on Kafka’s castle at Liberty Global.
The Chilcot report is due tomorrow. I don’t expect to read it, so like most of us I’ll hear what the media see fit to report from it.
They’ve already been telling us it’s likely to disappoint anyone expecting it to blame The Liar. That would fall outside its terms of reference, so any finger pointed at him is likely to be of a secondary and probably tangential nature. There’s also a suggestion floating around that the current Labour leadership crisis has something to do with it: the Party wanted a more compliant (interim) leader than Corbyn in place to respond to Chilcot.
With the passage of time and the principal warmongers no longer in post, this probably means there’ll be little appetite for further investigation, and The Liar will be off the hook, facing no more than criticism at a level he’s well-equipped to brush off. A dismal contrast to the vigorous pursuit of much lower-level perpetrators of Bad Things in pre-1945 Germany, up to 70 years on from their crimes.
This may be a lot more than a mere injustice. We’ve not merely made a horrendous mess of Iraq, but also destabilised the region, pretending all the while that we were the Good Guys. No wonder there’s the hatred and despair that’s led to the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant! A token of contrition and act of justice – like putting The Liar on trial – might be the last opportunity in a generation to defuse that justified resentment and make a start on winning back “hearts and minds”, so that the Islamic State is not succeeded by something yet more brutal arising out of the same sense of grievance and monstrous injustice.
A couple of days ago, I was looking up a bus timetable from my ‘phone. All perfectly mundane.
The address I thought I wanted failed: I don’t have it bookmarked and I’ve probably misremembered. So I googled.
Google failed too. With a message about an invalid certificate. WTF? Google annoyingly use https, and I got a message about an invalid certificate. Who is sitting in the middle? Surely they can’t really be eavesdropping: with browsers issuing strong warnings, they’re never going to catch anything sensitive. Must be just a hopelessly misconfigured network.
I don’t care if someone watches as I look up a bus time, I just want to get on with it! But it’s not obvious with android how I can override that warning and access google. Or even an imposter: if they don’t give me the link I wanted from google, nothing lost!
So has my mobile network screwed up horribly? Cursing at the hassle, I go into settings and see it’s picked up a wifi network. BT’s public stuff: OpenZone, or something like that (from memory). This is BT, or someone on their network, playing sillybuggers. Just turn wifi off and all works well again as the phone reverts to my network.
Except, now I have to remember to re-enable wifi before doing anything a bit data-intensive, like letting the ‘phone update itself, or joining a video conference. All too easy to forget.
Hmm, come to think of it, that broken network is probably also what got between me and the bus timetable in the first place. That wasn’t https.
 There are good reasons to encrypt, but search is rarely one of them. Good that google enables it (at least if you trust google more than $random-shady-bod), but it’s a pain that they enforce it.
It should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: I join the rest of the world in condemning the terrorist attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
I’m not familiar with the publication, and all I know is what’s been reported in the media coverage of the attack. I’m sure they’ve published offensive things, no doubt often for very good reasons. Maybe sometimes also gratuitously so, which would be indefensible unless with an apology for poor judgement. But even if they were completely wrong, nothing justifies gunning them down!
Here in Blighty we were treated to a clip of our beloved Prime Minister expressing sentiments with which we can all agree. Alas, some of his fine words sit uneasily with his government’s less-than-fine actions. What I found utterly jarring and what prompts me to comment were his words: “… and we stand squarely for free speech …“.
No you don’t: you have demonstrated that you stand squarely against free speech. On your government’s watch, people have been imprisoned for having the wrong book, or for being an arse on twitter (the latter looks like a close analogy to the very Free Speech you claim to defend). Your government shows no signs of rolling back Blair’s police state, but rather looks to extend it, and our culture has moved so far into totalitarianism that a supposedly-serious documentary programme this week on the BBC can be outraged by free speech where it exists elsewhere in the world!
OK, dragging some poor sod through our courts isn’t the same as gunning them down. That more genteel and sophisticated option isn’t available to private individuals, so while the difference is real, it isn’t a simple case of civilisation vs barbarity.
What a hypocrite!
p.s. There’s another case been in the news recently. Some footballer who’s been to prison, and whose attempts to return to work have been thwarted by a successful campaign of terror. That is, real terror: it seems prospective employers have been scared off by credible threats of extreme violence. Now that situation (of credible threats) is precisely where the State should have a legitimate interest in taking action against the culprit(s). Will they?
A report into the killing of a soldier outside his barracks points the finger of blame at an unnamed foreign Internet company, where one of the killers had apparently made comments about wanting to kill a British soldier. The BBC tells us it’s Facebook, so let’s go with that, though really the identity of the company in question is neither here nor there.
The implication that Facebook should have told the security services and are to blame for not doing so is just too bizarre to be credible. The authorities would of course be deluged with millions of notifications every day of threats of violence from whatever automatic tools might analyse Facebook posts, and of course spammers have proved (if proof were ever needed) that all such tools have a significant failure rate. Of course 100.00% (to the nearest 0.01%) of those threats could be dismissed as completely non-serious given a bit of context, but digging up that context would be far from straightforward, even given all of today’s state-of-the-art Big Data and NLP tools and a layer of sci-fi on top.
Wouldn’t it be good to kill a politician by burning at the stake? Now, WordPress, you’d better report my death threat to the spooks. What, you mean you don’t read my every post? How remiss! Perhaps Google might also get blamed for failing to report it. At least this one should be easy to analyse: it doesn’t need cross-referencing to any wider discussion to get the context!
So what’s it really about? The report coincides with another Orwellian surveillance bill coming from the government. Or rather, as the report’s authors point out, the 1984 bill coincides with the long-scheduled publication of the report. Yes, how jolly convenient. Dammit, have I admitted yet in this blog how comprehensively wrong I was when I thought the current government would roll back some of Blair’s police state, or even just halt the advance of it?
But I’m uneasy about even that explanation. This particular finger of blame is just too absurd to stick. The meeja, of all political persuasions, will surely tear it to shreds once someone gives it a moment’s thought (the techie media already have). The government’s case based on this – if such it be – is surely too weak to be credible even with supporters of a surveillance state. How could anyone suppose otherwise?
So what’s really afoot? What are we being distracted from? I fear I don’t know that. I may have missed some clues whilst at ApacheCon. I may pick up some clues as this plays out. Hopefully at least someone in the mainstream meeja will take an interest and not be too intimidated by Leveson. Or maybe it really is nothing, and they just misinterpreted whatever they may have known or expected of the report? Or maybe the reports to date are just misleading?
On the subject of this soldier’s killing, it’s not just Orwellian surveillance at issue. We also have a heavy dose of Orwellian Newspeak, with two words being corrupted: terrorist and murder.
Terrorist? Back in the days of the IRA, that word implied a threat to innocent civilians. Yet the killers in this case went to great lengths to make it clear that they were absolutely no threat to civilians, including those who looked on in horror and went to the aid of the dying soldier. If the IRA had committed no worse atrocity than that, they might just have enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – widespread support amongst their community and respect outside it. An act of War, but not of Terror.
And murder? That’s at least supportable, but if killing a soldier is murder then it’s not just many of “our” soldiers who are murderers, it’s also those heroic but now very old men who defeated Hitler back in an era when we stood for Freedom. The right word for the crime – executed with precision against the arm of the State – is surely Treason.
 Lest it be thought mine is a knee-jerk libertarian reaction, let me add that I think it entirely plausible that there is a valid case for updating police powers, of which the Home Secretary and her department obviously know far more than I ever will. And the current bill isn’t really about surveillance so much as Blaming Facebook or the above post might suggest. It’s just that the coincidence with the “Blame Facebook” report suggests it might be yet more sinister when it claims to be too weak on the subject of Internet surveillance!
This evening, the BBC broadcast the results of a short story prize. I heard some of the stories as they broadcast them last week, and they were indeed good. I missed the broadcast of the winning story, but I daresay it was well-deserving of its award.
Being the BBC, they didn’t just broadcast the stories and the award ceremony. They also broadcast a lot of discussion: of the award, the shortlisted candidates, the stories, of the short story form, of what works well with the form, authors and critics anecdotes, etc.
Never once in all that discussion did anyone remark on the fact that it was an all-female shortlist. Why should they? There’s nothing remarkable about it: it’s entirely reasonable (and in the long term statistically inevitable) that a fair and impartial shortlist should, from time to time, be all female.
— However —
This is the same BBC who, a couple of years ago, found itself with an all-male shortlist for another award. I don’t recollect the award itself, just the huge fuss they made of the absence of women on the shortlist. This is a huge misogynistic scandal, unacceptable sexism. How was this allowed to happen? Do heads need to roll? This must never be allowed to happen again!
Googling suggests the award in question was probably their “sports personality of the year” (for 2011), which would explain why I had no interest in the award itself and heard only the fuss. The mindless, blatantly sexist fuss, that is now revealed in the full glory of its hypocrisy by the contrast with today’s very civilised short story award.