Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why The Bail-Out Bill Failed: Democracy ... ?

Well, jeez, I was as surprised as everyone else.

Many representatives from both sides of the House spoke against it, which was expected, even including Nancy Pelosi, but even more actually voted against it.

What happened was this: the American people seems to have decided that they didn't want their tax dollars going to buy another yacht/jet/house for the bosses of financial institutions who'd made big such mistakes with the customers money.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the bill, there was a huge groundswell of public opinion against it, and they decided they didn't want it, so they used the only weapon they had - the telephone, the internet, and the fact that the elections are very close. They called, messaged and emailed their representatives and told them straight - "Vote for this bill and you can pack your bags."

How do we know this? Simple. Those that voted against the bill were predominantly those who had either expressed strong opposition before voting or are in marginal seats, whereas those that voted in favour of the bill were mainly those who had either stated clearly their support, or are retiring at the next election.

Well, all the pressure put on the decision makers worked. Who'd have believed it? People Power Democracy in the USA?

On the Banks? Let 'em go bust. Are we really supposed to have sympathy for these unregulated over-paid button-pushing gamblers? In whom we placed so much trust, yet who have proved to have such poor judgment, to be so universally appalling at their jobs that they have brought down their companies on their own heads? Not only were they gambling with our money - but they clearly are not very good at it. If a steel company, or a dairy business, or a hardware store should get into difficulties, would the Government step in and protect investors?

So your shares and investments have taken a dive. So what? Shares fluctuate all the time. Shares are for the long-term, and they'll bounce back in the long-term. If you were looking for a short-term gain, well, guess what? You gambled and lost. That's the deal.

So your bank is foreclosing on your mortgage because you didn't make the payments? So what. You over-reached yourself. Trade down or rent out, you do what you have to do to get by, but you just had to buy that big house, didn't you? And if you bought-to-let, with the intention of earning money off renters, then I laugh twice as hard.

So you worked in the banking sector and now you're unemployed? Well, I didn't hear you gripe when you used your last bonus to buy that speedboat. You're in banking, for Christs sake - you make nothing for society, you contribute nothing to society, and your entire industry is based on fragile confidence.

As for the market, we take the pain now, then restructure and regulate the whole money business for the future.

More Lost Data ...

In a follow up to yesterdays post, more lost data news follows just 24 hours later. Now it's a camera found on eBay in the UK with MI6 images of terror suspects and military equipment.

This, can I remind you, is the Government that states that when ID Cards come in, our data is 'safe' in their hands.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Data Privacy - Official Charged, For Once, But Another Hole Found ...

The Cabinet Office official who left top-secret documents on a train in June is to be charged under the Official Secrets Act, according to the BBC. Usualyy they a) aren't looked for; b) aren't found or; c) aren't bothered.

The suggestion, is, of course, that all data leakages and losses (and there have been soooo many..) are generally the fault of careless commuters falling asleep on the 6.15 from Victoria. This nicely attempts to deflect attention from another leak of your data (okay, only if you live in West Yorkshire, but you get the point.)

I'd keep a fuller log of all these data losses but I don't have the time or the inclination. Besides, when they're happening faster than you can write about them - something is seriously wrong...

Tories Let The Train Take The Strain ...

The Tories say they would scrap plans for a third runway at Heathrow and build a high-speed rail line instead. They are proposing to create a new line linking London St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds - saying it would cut Heathrow flights by 66,000 a year.

As one who would zip up and down the country on a regular basis in my previous life, I know that the trains are actually quite good now, as opposed to their previous reputation. And as for cutting out check-in times (what is it now? 3 hours? 2 days?) and being able to carry a bottle of harmless water on board...

Trains will do it - IF - and it's a big if - the franchises are price-controlled. How ridiculous would it be if the train was so much more expensive than the flight... ?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taking "Renewable Resources" To A New Level ...

I post a fair bit on using renewable resources. One of my friends joked recently that if I could build a motorcycle out of Pepsi can ring-pulls, plastic bottles and compost, I'd have done so by now. But seeing this image below made me finally realize that there is no limit to human ingenuity. Yes, its a wooden car (except for the engine), and yes it runs nicely, and yes, it's legal.

He must use a ton of wax polish on a Sunday morning, though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

ID Cards By The Back Door ...

The fight against ID Cards continues but it looks as though the UK Government have switched to 'salami' tactics, i.e., slice-by-slice introduction. The announcement came yesterday that certain groups - those on marriage visas and foreign students - will have to get these cards.

This is of course known as introduction by 'creepage'. The next groups to be added will be students when opening a bank account, airport workers, and others untill there are few left behing in the UK who don't fall into one of the governments 'special categories' The legislation has been delayed because the little public support there was for ID cards has been eroded by the contant loss of personal details by various government departments, particularly HM Revenue and Customs (25 million details lost). The government says it wants to "give people a sure-fire way of proving they are who they say they are". It argues ID cards will "boost national security, tackle identity fraud, prevent illegal working and improve border controls". However all of these arguments were discounted many years ago, but the government keeps trotting them out.

Critics (like me) say identity cards interfere with civil liberties, are too expensive and will do little to tackle problems like terrorism. There are fears the cards might cause friction among ethnic minority communities particularly affected by police stop and searches. And some are worried the cards would force illegal immigrants into avoiding contact with hospitals and police.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are against the scheme and both say they would scrap it if they win power. So you know who to vote for.

European Union Gets Tough(ish) on Emissions ...

I was both surprised and pleased that the EU has rejected Motor Industry pleas for more time to create greener vehicles with lower emissions. The EUs intention is to reduce vehicle emissions from an average of 158g per vehicle to 130g by 2012.

Pleased, because it's a step - albeit small - in the right direction for long term sustainability. Surprised, because most thought that the application for delay would succeed. All the smart money was on the legislation being watered down, due to pressure from heavyweight lobbying from the Society Of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, as well as many sides of the European Parliament. However, at the last minute the coalition against seems to have imploded.

The SMMT had called for a delay until 2012, mainly citing a long 'design cycle' for newer engines, but this was rejected by the EU - If the Car Makers had been following their own 'greenwash' advertising, they'd have those engines ready by now. So much for R&D.

Has the EU Grown Brass Ones?
I've always been a strong supporter of Europe as an ideal, but not of the EU as an entity, riddled as it is with fraud and poor accounting, but this was a pleasant surprise. Some reports even suggested that many individual MEPs voted contrary the instructions from their own governments. Perhaps the EU has found its balls?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lib Dems Break Privacy Rules In U.K. ...

The Liberal Democrats broke privacy rules with their use of automated phone calls featuring leader Nick Clegg, the Information Commissioner's Office says. Senior Lib Dems had insisted the calls would not break any rules as they were for "genuine market research purposes".

Ah.. em. Genuine Market Research? I don't think so. Calls were made to voters only residing in 50 key seats that the Lib-Dems feel they need to crack to get any influence on UK politics. The Information Commissioner's Office has now ruled that the Lib Dem calls constituted "direct marketing", which are not allowed unless someone has given prior consent. Much as I have a soft spot for the Lib-Dems, these kind of practices are likely place them firmly in the same gutter as the Labour Party and The Tories. I look forward to them standing up in the House Of Commons and talking about protecting that same rights they themselves have breached. It hardly matches their new logo (right)...

Surprisingly, the enforcement notice gives the Liberal Democrats 30 days to stop using the calls. Surely an auotmated system such as this can be just... here's an idea... switched off!?

Quitting Smoking - How Hard Can It Be ... ?

I've been thinking more and more about quitting, mainly because I recently had to register recently with a new doctor and I had to suffer the third degree about my smoking.
I was asked an interesting question: not "Why don't you quit?" but, instead, "Why do you actually smoke?"

Well, gee, I had to think about that. After a bit of self-analysis I came up with this... I smoke because:
  • I enjoy it;
  • It relieves boredom;
  • I don't think I can quit;
  • I don't think I want to quit.
I know for a fact that cold turkey will not work for me (it doesn't work for most people) So, I'm taking these excuses one at a time.

I'll continue another day, because I need a fag right now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Naomi Klein's 'No Logo' - Ever More Relevant ...

I've just re-read Naomi Klein's 'No Logo', the definitive book on anti-globalisation, corporate ethics and branding, which has become became a huge hit worldwide and a cultural milestone.

It's compulsory reading if you're ever tempted to buy Nike, Starbucks, McDonalds, Gap, MicroSoft, Pepsi, etc.

It has led many, including me, to be very careful when buying, to guide our hard-earned cash towards the purchase of goods and services supplied by companies who abide by certain standards of doing business.This method of protest, called 'Ethical Consumerism' is gaining momentum.

I would hesitate to quote a list of 'good guys' and 'bad guys', but I would encourage you to do some research.

YOYOW - You Own Your Own Words ... !

I heard this word recently - YOYOW - while I was talking to a friend about a couple of 'anonymous' blogs, who's authors kept their identities private.

One can understand keeping details secret for reasons of security, of course. You can't display too much of your life on a website - far too easy, apparently, for 'trawlers' to gather data about you. Another reason, especially for using aliases not only for yourself but those you might mention, is fear of the consequences. several bloggers, web site authors and posters have lost their jobs or been dragged into court over comments they've made online.
I can see the point of this, for some, but not for me.

So, back to 'YOYOW' - 'You Own Your Own Words'. The phrase was created by Stewart Brand when he launched 'The Well'.

Those who post anonymously online might not realise that many readers (including me) consider these postings to have less 'validity', due to the posters identities being private. The secrecy protects the posters from any challenge to their facts, which means they could write anything they like, however true or false.

I'm a little more upfront, I take responsibility for all my comments, and I'm quite open to anyone's responses. Go on, take your best shot!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Severed Fifth - A New Way To Distribute Music ... ?

A new project called ‘Severed Fifth‘ (no, I don’t know either…) has been started by Jono Bacon, a big name in the Linux World and currently Community Manager for Ubuntu or (GNU/Linux Ubuntu to give it it's full name). Bacon aims to create and distribute his thrash metal music in a new way, as he says, to “take the Open Source methodology and apply it to music.“ He’ll be issuing tracks under a Creative Commons Sampling Plus Licence. The basis behind the project is to “explore different methods of generating revenue” in the music industry.

This is really radical stuff, and Jono deserves your support. Check out his site and try a few of his tracks - It’s not to my taste, but that’s not really the point! Open Source Software has already woken up and regalvanised the computing industry, perhaps now is the time for the over-regimented music business to get a kick in the pants.

Lateral Thinking at it’s best.

Roger Ebert’s 'Boulder Pledge' - An Anti-Spam Agenda, 12 Years On…

Film critic Roger Ebert’s reviews are compulsory reading for the Tinsel Town movers and shakers. However, I also regard him highly as one of the first people to take action against spam email. Back in 1996, Ebert created ‘The Boulder Pledge‘, a promise not to purchase anything offered through spam. Part of the pledge is worded by Ebert as follows:
Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.
Seems obvious now, doesn’t it? But I’d like to expand on it a little by adding this bit myself:
I also pledge not to purchase any goods or services brought to my attention via annoying pop-up windows, misleading Google paid-for listings, or (in real life) junk mail.
If I’ve missed anything… Let me know!

Quotation From 'The Beach' - A Philosophy Of Life ...

Watching 'The Beach' (again) recently, I was struck by this quotation from the film which I just loved. Must have missed it the first time around. I'm not a huge fan of DiCaprio, and I hated the way that the British tourist in the novel got 'Americanised' for the US market (or should that be 'AmericaniZed'?) but, hey, it's still a good movie.
Mine is a generation that circles the globe, and searches for something we haven’t tried before.
So, never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience.
And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.
'Richard', from ‘The Beach’

UltraLight Backpacking - In The Footsteps Of Grandma Gatewood

I've been a keen backpacker since my teens, and alongside my minimalist domestic lifestyle, a minimal approach to hiking and backpacking seems to me to be entirely logical. Most of the benefit of living with fewer possessions transfers to the outdoor life very nicely indeed.

Even back in the 80's I was doing multi-day hikes with a simple day-pack of basic stuff. I knew I wasn't the only one, and I certainly wasn't the first.

In the 50's, as hiking for pleasure was becoming more popular and mainstream, packs carried by many were already approaching levels between 30lb and 60lb, especially for long-distance treks such as the Appalachian Trail in the USA. (European equivalent trails were slow in coming), but it was the 'AT' that Emma 'Grandma' Gatewood hiked end-to-end, with "a duffel bag containing an army blanket, a plastic sheet, and other very simple gear". She became, and still is, a legend.

Even before this, outdoorsman Horace Kephart, in 1917, had written on the subject of reducing the load, allowing a hiker to go further, faster, and easier. Ultimately the practice of ultralight hiking goes back even before soldiers in armies across the centuries, and before explorers in unknown lands.

It really began with nomadic tribesmen, natives across the world who were in tune with their surroundings to such an extent that they would find everything they needed along the way: food, shelter, clothing, first aid, weaponry, and entertainment. From the Aborigines and Maori of Australasia to the Sami tribes of Scandinavia, the Bantu and Masai tribes of Africa, those of South America and all over the world, natives knew how to travel.

There are, to my mind, two approaches to Ultralight: the technical and the cultural. Between the two extremes, each hiker finds their own way.

The Net is full of personalised 'Gear Lists' pages of Tips and other resources. Even if by following just a few ideas, you'll trim the weight off your back.

Just imagine, after a confortable lunch stop, leaning back against a tree beside a stream, nervously contemplating the struggle to once again lift the heavy pack that you were so glad to dump on the ground just a short while ago. It looks much like the boulder its leant against.

Now your vision blurs, and then clears, and suddenly your pack has gone, and in its place is a small bag that you would have overlooked had you not been seeking it. You lift it with just two fingers, lightly flick it over one shoulder, and make your way onwards.

Admit it - sounds good, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quotations of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi ...

As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything, keep it.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers.

I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.

It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.

One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it - always.

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.

I think it would be a good idea. (when asked what he thought of Western civilization)

Why Is It Called 'White Space Life' ... ?

Flip through any glossy lifestyle or home improvement magazine, and look at the images used in adverts, usually depicting some impossibly good-looking young couple in a tidy, roomy lounge in a modern apartment, full of light and space, with no clutter, no mess.

Now look at your own room, flat or house. Quite a difference, eh?
You'd imagine that the advertising image of that perfect environment is an unattainable goal - but it's really not.

The Nightmare
Frankly, we buy far too much unnecessary stuff. Then we buy more stuff to maintain and store and clean the other stuff and all it's accessories. Then we barely use it, we forget about it, it gathers dust. And then we throw it in a landfill.

We buy this stuff not because we need it, but because we want it, just at that particular fleeting moment when we see it, because purchasing makes us feel good - it's a form of therapy.

We buy a small flat, fill it with rubbish, decide that we then need a bigger house, trade up, enjoy the extra space for a week... before proceeding to fill it up again with the same old crap.

The Dream

It's difficult, ridding ourselves of this addiction, especially with a family, but the benefits are astounding. And - this is important - it's not necessarily about frugality: you can buy less, and you can save a lot of money, but you also have the choice of buying 'less-but-better': I know a guy who has 23 shirts, all pretty cheap, while I have 5, all hand made, which probably cost about the same to buy.

With 'White Space Living' you can have better stuff, but most importantly, you have less to store, tidy, clean, maintain, insure and protect. And by the way, as a by-product, you use resources less, have less to recycle, you can make ethically-based buying decisions, and raise a finger to the big evil corporations!

White Space In Graphics

The phrase 'White Space' is also used in graphic design to refer to the, well, space, usually (but not always) white, around an text or graphic element, which highlights the item itself, on it's own, on the page. In the same way, less stuff in real life simply means that the stuff you do have becomes more precious, you get more pleasure and enjoyment from it, you tend to use it more, and keep it for longer.

My Personal Experience

When I moved a few years ago, most of my mountain of stuff was in boxes. With being too busy and having no time to unpack, I fell into a routine of living out of two or three boxes for a while, only retrieving stuff I needed, when I needed it.

And a year later, most of those boxes were still sealed. So I had the mother of all clear outs, and I put the brakes on spending. Pretty soon, I'd whittled my possessions down to a bare minimum.

Since then, I've been a passionate believer in, and practitioner of, minimalism. This has further inspired me to address other aspects of society, and get involved in anti-consumerism, environmentalism, recycling, local politics and various other causes.

My life now revolves around things that are far more important: experiences, travel, activism, relationships.

I don't miss the stuff at all.

Welcome - A Not-Very-Brief Explanation ...

This site is a collection of comments, thoughts, and links to articles on a very specific lifestyle choice - that of... er... lets just call it 'White Space Living', shall we? It's a combination of a few things. So what's it all about? Well, let's break it down into its parts:

Bright Green is one of many flavours of environmentalism, which pursues the goal of long-term sustainability, through radical changes in the economic and political operation of society. The belief is that technology and social innovation are the keys to sustainable development. Learn more here.

Techno-Progressivism is similiar in a way, utilising the same sort of changes but for different goals. It is the desire for the empowerment and emancipation of mankind through technological, scientific, social and ethical change. Learn more here.

Minimalism is a personal lifestyle choice, to minimize the aquisition of excessive material goods, for various reasons such as spirituality, personal taste, frugality, anti-consumerism, conservation, social justice, and even tidyness. Learn more here.

And ...

E-Activism is the method: It is the use of technology such as e-mail, web sites, blogging and podcasts to enable communication, to deliver a message to a large audience, for fundraising, lobbying, volunteering, community building, and organizing. Learn more here.

So is that any clearer?

Well, I hope so, I know it's a bit complicated. 'White Space' is just my phrase for the life choice as a whole. For an explanation of why it's called this, see Why Is It Called 'White Space Living'? You'll probably get a clearer idea of the aims of this site by viewing the 'Categories' box and selecting one that interests you.

So, welcome. Read on, and consider.
 "We must be the change we wish to see in the world."