Life Mammon/Babylon Philosophy Politics


Image by Frank Kunert

I am gross and perverted
I’m obsessed and deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed
I’m the tool of the government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you

I may be vile and pernicious
But you can’t look away
I make you think I’m delicious
With the stuff that I say
I am the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I am the slime oozing out
From your TV set

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t go for help…no one will heed you
Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mould
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

~ Frank Zappa “I’m The Slime”

Accessibility Design Policy Politics Technology Usability Web

One size does not fit all

I wrote this in reply to an insightful article by Jenni Tennison giving an insider’s view of the UK government’s current project to unify all of its websites into a single one. I agree with the doubts she raises about this project, because I’ve been there, done that before…

Some years ago, I worked on a long-term project which was funded by the then Public Record Office. When that institution was rebranded as the National Archives, complete with shiny new website, they decided that our hitherto independently-styled and -managed website must be rebranded to mimic theirs in look and feel.

This was far from easy, partly because their design had a horrendously messy implementation, and partly because (of course) it had been designed without any reference to us or how our data delivery might fit into it. It was imposed on us as a fait accompli, and we had to – somehow – squeeze our square peg into their round hole.

We spent a full year smashing our clean, lightweight design into pieces and gluing it back together in order to fit their restrictive, bloated one. I didn’t much enjoy doing it (can you tell?), but I like to think we did a good job.

Possibly too good. What we found when it went live is that users got confused: our site, now a subdomain of theirs, looked and felt so similar to the main site that users expected it to work in exactly the same way, but this was ultimately impossible as ours had a fundamentally different set of functions than theirs. Those areas where we overlapped had been made to work identically, but this just led to confusion where the functionality diverged.

One size does not fit all. And the more distance there is between those responsible for the design and management of a site, and those producing the content for it, the more likely it is that some of that content will be presented poorly, or not at all.

I don’t think people really want all government websites to look the same, or to be in the same domain1. I think what they want is for information to be easy to find and easy to access. The best way to ensure that is to keep the designers and managers of the website as close as possible to the people producing the information. By all means have standards to ensure best practice, but keep them as minimal as possible, with a mechanism for those bound by them to suggest changes if they find them too restrictive.

And let different things look different, because that helps people to realise that they are different.

  1. URLs are irrelevant to many non-technical users, who nowadays routinely rely on search engines – even to find sites that they visit every day, as evidenced by the “Facebook Login” debacle 
Politics UK

The greatest threat to our way of life

Police are calling for flag burning to be made illegal. Why? Allegedly because “Britain [has] come to be seen at home and abroad as soft on extremist demonstrators.” (my emphasis).

Oh really? That’s why we’ve just had a successful prosecution of a demonstrator for inciting racial hatred. If demonstrators really are extremist, they can be prosecuted under existing laws.

This government has introduced 3000 new criminal offences in 9 years. Despite early release of prisoners, the prisons are full already (it doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s going to happen, but seems to have taken the govt completely by surprise!), and yet the police continue to ask for more and crazier laws. Why? Really, why? Could it be that in order to create a successful totalitarian/police state, anyone who refuses to be cowed by the climate of fear created by the State, anyone who does not buy into the whole War on Terror story, must be kept in line by other means?

This should come as no great surprise; we already lost the rights of assembly and peaceful protest some years ago on the back of the Mayday anti-capitalist shenanigans. Which kinda proves the point that if you fight fire with fire, a lot of people are going to get burned. All those “anarchists” smashing up McDonalds managed to achieve was to hand over a load more power to the State. Nice work.

The greatest threat to our freedom and way of life in this country is for stupid laws to be passed which take it away. The idiots calling for and creating these laws insist that they are trying to safeguard our freedom, but it is they, not terrorists, who are systematically destroying it. We need to work against such stupidity, but it should be done carefully, with cunning rather than blind rage. They are big, we are small; we cannot fight them head on, but we can (quite clearly) outsmart them.

Politics UK

Warning: You are now entering a totalitarian state

You probably haven’t heard of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. Sounds boring doesn’t it? Far from it.

This bill, if passed, gives almost unlimited powers to Ministers to change the law without the involvement of parliament. And since the bill doesn’t exclude itself from this amazing power, whatever restrictions it contains could be removed by ministerial order. In other words, it would enable the government of the day to do anything, without any of that tedious business of democracy getting in the way.

When you consider it alongside the Mass Surveillance System* currently being set up, the curtailment of the right to protest, and the possibility of indefinite detention without trial on the basis of security service “intelligence” (despite the very obvious failure of such “intelligence” in Iraq), can you see what is happening here? Most people can’t. If you can, please help to spread the word before it’s too late.

This is not just about this government. It’s about whether you want every future government, elected or not, to have such far-reaching powers, which take automatic precedence over your freedom. Do they really need to create all the tools of a totalitarian state just to fight terrorism? It wasn’t necessary to do so in the days of the IRA bombing campaign. Why now?

* The Mass Surveillance System comprises, amongst other things, ID Cards and especially the National Identity Register; Childrens Act Register; CCTV on every street (but violent crime continues to rise); numberplate recognition systems that will track your vehicle everywhere in the name of “congestion charging”; unprecedented powers for the security services to spy on British citizens, including MPs. It is the repealment of human rights and justice safeguards that we have had for centuries, like the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Instead there is now a presumption that all citizens might be up to no good and must be kept under surveillance at all times.

Further Reading about the Bill:

Thanks to No2ID for alerting me to this.