Move along now. Nothing to see here.

Censorship

Censorship (Photo credit: IsaacMao)

I love the freedom of the Internet. The idea that any kind of knowledge, any kind of product or service is just a click away still astounds me.

Children born today will find it very difficult to believe that it was ever any different. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys this freedom. There are those poor souls who have no access to the internet because of lack of means or infrastructure. Then there are those who only have access to a limited subset. They can see what their government wants them to see.

For some reason, I find that really sinister. I abhor the idea of someone in power deciding what I can or cannot see.

Living in the UK, we are lucky to have a press that is the envy of the world. Up until recently, I believed that they operated with no interference. They print what they want, even if it holds the state to account for their behaviour. I can’t imagine the press reports about MP’s expenses would be allowed in China or Burma for example. This was the press at their best.

Not so long ago, the press blotted their copy books by illegally hacking phones to source interesting news copy. This was not their finest hour. In response, the government is introducing a new watchdog backed by legislation to control the worst excesses of the press.

I don’t like it.

David Cameron recently unveiled an agreement with all the main internet service providers in the UK to introduce a “porn filter”. Unless subscribers opt out of the scheme, their internet access will be filtered to exclude adult content. According to the Open Rights Group, as well as sexual content, this will include violence, extremist related content,  eating disorder web sites, suicide related web sites, alcohol and smoking related content and esoteric material (whatever that may be). Who’s going to decide what’s OK and what isn’t?

I really don’t like it.

Anyone who wants to view any kind of adult material will have to opt in. This means that they will be on a list of people who have actively chosen to view such content. I really hope we are not sleepwalking into a world where such a choice has negative consequences for the individual concerned.

The thing I find really sinister is that the infrastructure to block content will exist. Will successive governments resist the temptation to filter anything inconvenient? Can we even believe that we have free access today?

Europe – are we united or divided and do we care?

European Union

European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The history of Europe over the centuries looks like a battlefield both literally and figuratively. Every so often, the powerful countries of the United Kingdom, France and Germany would fall out over something or other and go to war. World War 2 was the last such conflict and it has now been nearly 70 years since that war came to an end.

We have enjoyed nigh on 7 decades of relative peace, thanks in no small part to the European Union. The UK wasn’t interested to start with and applied to join a few years after the start only to be vetoed by the French. We persisted and joined the community in 1973.

Our relationship with Europe has been tumultuous ever since and there is a growing groundswell of opinion among the general public that we would be better off outside the European Union. Indeed, the UK Independence Party, started some 20 years ago with an exit from the community as their central policy. For many years, they gained little or no traction but recently, their share of the vote grew dramatically. So much so that the Conservative party promised a referendum on membership of the European Union should they win the next general election.

Because we live in a democracy, we are bound to follow the wishes of the majority. If they want us out, then out we must go. Sky News recently carried out the first in-depth survey to show what people’s voting intentions would be, why they would vote that way and what would make them change their mind (if anything). The results show a country broadly split down the middle with 51% in favour of leaving and 49% wanting to stay. The number one issue cited in the survey is immigration.

I hope that when it comes to the referendum proper, people vote with a clear understanding of what’s at stake either way. This mustn’t be a protest vote. It mustn’t be an emotional knee-jerk reaction or based on reminiscing about the fact that we once stood alone and we can do it again – us against the world. The issue is far too important. By all means, vote for what you want – but make sure you have a reasonable understanding about what you will gain and what you will lose.

As for me, I remain broadly in favour of the UK staying in the European Union. I understand there are drawbacks but I think we gain more than we lose. I think if we leave, much of the foreign companies we’ve attracted to invest over the years may well reconsider. I believe trade will gradually become more difficult and we will lose a lot of influence. According to the Independent newspaper, we gain from immigrants into the UK and if we stopped them coming, it would cost us £18Bn over the next 5 years. I like the way that people can move freely around Europe.

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party has pledged to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the EU so the club might have different rules when we get to the ballot box. If he can swing our membership such that it becomes more economic and less political then it should give a boost to the stay vote. It worries me that a large percentage of the respondents to the Sky News poll would not change their voting intentions no matter what.

What about you – shall we stay or shall we go? Why? Do you care?

Her Majesty in 3D

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British history has to be among the richest in the world. There’s murder, betrayal and revolution (and that’s just Henry the 8th. Quite how my history teacher at school managed to bore me to tears about it is beyond me. She could take the most fascinating events in British History and reduce them to a boring monotonous drone. As a teenager, some pretty exciting stuff fought for my attention, so it was no surprise that I switched off during her lessons.

Since leaving school, the games I play mean that I have a renewed interest in history and there has never been a better time to be a history buff than today. There are some fine period dramas and some great historical documentaries to say nothing of the rich literature literally falling off the shelves.

Yesterday, in Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty made history. Every year, as she has done for 60 years, she gives her traditional Christmas address. For many British families, it is something that is intricately woven into the tapestry of Christmas. An essential part of the yuletide celebrations, life pauses at 3PM for 15 minutes to sit down with a glass of sherry and listen to what the Queen has to say.

Whilst the monarchy ceased to hold any political power, she is still a big part in Politicians’ lives. As all Prime Ministers before him, David Cameron has to go and see the Queen once a week to talk about how things are going. It all happens behind closed doors and details of any discussions are strictly confidential. I imagine there have been some pretty tense moments over the silverware during some of the more fraught political events of the past.

So, to David Cameron, seeing the Queen in 3D is a weekly event and although she remains outwardly neutral, I bet it’s at the back of his mind that he doesn’t want to do anything to incur her displeasure. After all, she retains the ability to dismiss governments should she ever consider it necessary.

I can think of many things which would benefit from being broadcast in 3D. The swooping and diving of Avatar for example, the fast paced car chases from James Bond or the sweeping vistas of scenery in a wildlife documentary from some far away land. The Palace said they wanted to do something different during the Queen’s diamond jubilee year and far be it from me as her humble subject to criticise, but I think the Queen has more than enough gravitas without such gimmicks.