Sunday, 31 July 2011

Love

As an advanced warning this will be one of those self-indulgent posts where I muse about my own life. If you're not interested then don't worry - I don't intend to be doing these kinds of post on a regular basis so if (inexplicably) you actually like reading my opinions on political events then normal service will resume shortly. After all, I don't normally talk about my private life as I tend to keep my private life separate from everything else so you have no need to worry about this turning into a "dear diary" kind of blog.

Anyways, love. It's a funny thing isn't it?

At the end of last year I fell in love for the first time. I know what they say about first love and how it always feels like it will last forever and, I can tell you, they're right. I've discovered that I'm one of those people who loves being in love and, more than anything else in my life, I loved being in love with Her (I won't mention her name as I'm sure she won't appreciate it and because I have to much respect for both her privacy and mine). Nothing in all my life has felt as wonderful as it felt to love her and to know I was loved back. I really did dream and hope it would last forever.

Of course, I turned out to be wrong. Back in May we broke up or, rather, she broke up with me. I don't bear her any ill will over it and it was about as amicable a break up as possible. Ever since we first met we've got on well with each other and both of us enjoy being friends and talking to each other which is why we continue to remain friends now. So I can't really complain on that account. In fact the only thing that I really object to is that the break up happened just after the local election results (which were depressing) and just as I entered the exam revision period. Much as I like her, She has a terrible sense of timing.

So now, for the first time, I'm through the process of recovering from an ended relationship. It's an odd experience and I still don't really know how to handle it - though I'm sure it'll turn out okay.

That said, it's a big jump to go from being in a relationship with the person you loved, and who you hoped you might marry at some point in the distant future, to being on your own again. When we were together I found myself thinking of her on the most random of occasions and it always made me smile and brightened up my day. Afterwards, I still kept thinking about her only now it just made me feel sad and caused an unpleasant feeling in my belly which was somewhat like having butterflies.

And, of course, the nights are unpleasant following a break up. Even when you're in a mostly long distance relationship, as I was, you still have the memories of curling up together to comfort you when you got to sleep. But after a break up you can't help but be alone with your thoughts as you wait for sleep to come and brooding comes as easy as breathing.

Like a lot of people in my situation, or so I imagine, I kept on nursing hopes that we might still get back together. After about a month I did actually go on one, highly unsuccessful, date after which I realised that I was in no fit state to try dating when I still hoped I might yet get back together with Her.

Fortunately, instead of moping about it endlessly, I finally asked her outright about it and she said no - though she said it more pleasantly than that. And, surprisingly, that helped. Looking back on it I realise that it gave me closure and I was finally able to let the relationship end and move on to where I am now which is adjusting to what has happened.

Now I know it wasn't true love - if it was then she'd have felt the same way about me as I did about her. But at the time I was with her, that's what it felt like and it's hard to get your heart to feel what your rational mind knows to be the truth. But I think I'm starting to get over her and now I'm at a sort of semi-nostalgic and contemplative stage. Hence this post.

You see, I've always been what they call an old head on young shoulders and I'm also a romantic which is why I actually want all that hetero-normative, ideal relationship stuff. I want to get married some day. I want to have a house with kids and a cat and possibly a dog. I want to find someone I can get old with, someone I can love until the end of my days. I'm in no rush, but it's something I definitely want in my future. I'm not terrified of dying alone and I don't need children to feel fulfilled but I would like and want it all the same. When people like Caron Lindsay or Jennie Rigg mention things about their family life it makes me think: "yeah, I want that". I'm looking forwards to things like trying not to swear in front of your kids and worrying about school lunches and sitting down with them to watch Finding Nemo. All in good time though.

And it's an odd thing love. Rationally I know that it's just a chemical and hormonal state that's evolved in order to keep a mating pair together long enough to ensure conception but that still doesn't stop it feeling like the most important thing in the history of the world when you experience it. And I, like most people in my generation, have been raised on a diet of happily-ever-after films and books where true love always wins out and where everything has a happy ending. I know real life isn't like that, and I know that I'm probably ridiculously optimistic and naive but I still can't help but believe some of that stuff.

But when I'm in M&S, as I was today, I look at the romance novels and sneer at them. Escapist nonsense I tell myself, and yet my view of love is remarkably close to the view expressed in those novels. And it makes me think about how we think and talk about love. Pretty much everyone wants it and most people spend the best part of their lives chasing it. It's what ties children to parents and parents to children, and love for others is what motivates us to try and make the world a better place for future generations. It may all be an evolutionary adaptation for the sole purpose of passing on genes and securing the survival of the species but I don't see how that makes it any less real or important.

But there you go.

As I said, I'm in a contemplative stage so most of this is probably nonsense. But it is what I'm thinking at the moment. And I know that, in time, I'll be fully recovered and I'll start looking for love again, but in the meantime I'm somewhat enjoying this feeling of not having that nagging urge to find someone, of not having to worry about relationships. I'm still feeling considerable affection for Her and I still think of what might have been but it doesn't hurt any more. And, on the plus side, I'm finally understanding what people are saying in all those songs about love and heartbreak. It's funny really. Before you fall in love you can't even begin to imagine what they're saying and afterwards every word rings true. Such is life.

I think, in balance, and, despite everything, I'm glad for what's happened. Breaking up may have been painful but the happiness I had when She and I were together more than makes up for it. And it's an experience. I know more about life now than I did when I started. I think I've grown as a person because of it. Besides, I'm an optimist. I believe that true love is waiting for me somewhere and that I'll find it in the end. At least now I've learned some mistakes to avoid next time. So yeah, even if it has motivated me to write this post, which I'll probably look back on with horror in the future, and even if it has caused me pain and heartache, I'm glad of love whatever it actually is.

Friday, 29 July 2011

To buy or not to buy

I'm in a little bit of a dilemna. On the one hand Peter Mandelson's autobiography is available on Amazon for £13.29 and I really want to read it. On the other hand, I don't want to put money into his pockets by buying the book.

So this is the moral dilemma which I am currently struggling with. The problem is, of course, Mandelson himself. On the one hand he's a terrible person and incredibly slimy. But on the other hand he's so charming that I can't help but like him. Hence my predicament in deciding whether to put money into his pockets or not.

I've already given up eating tuna and Nestle products for ethical reasons and so I think eventually my desire to read what is, by all accounts, a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of New Labour, will convince my conscience that I can read it without feeling guilty because of my ethical behaviour in other areas. That said, I'll probably have to hate myself a little bit while I read it.

Mind you, I can always write a review of it on here and thereby kid myself that I'm "only reading it for blogging purposes". What do you think? Should that be a sufficient get out clause?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

America is fucked

As you probably know, the USA is teetering on the brink of bringing down the global economy. This is because the US government has, for many, many years, been spending more than it brings in in taxes. However, the US has something called a debt ceiling and no government is allowed to increase the national debt beyond the debt ceiling without getting the approval of Congress. So, in order for the US government to keep on borrowing the money it needs to pay its bills and creditors, Congress needs to vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Now here's where the problem starts. Congress is controlled by the "fiscally conservative" Republicans who are running scared of the fanatical Tea Party movement. But the President is a Democrat.

Now, in order for the debt ceiling to be raised, all sides are insisting on a deficit reduction strategy. The basic problem is that the Republicans are refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless the defence budget is protected from cuts, taxes are kept low and there are cuts to welfare programmes. And they're only willing to raise the debt ceiling enough for the government to function for the next six months - meaning that the whole issue will blow up again at the same time that Obama is facing the presidential election.

Now the problem is that a deficit reduction strategy based purely on cuts with not tax rises is impossible. The US has tax rates which amount to just over 15% of GDP whilst pretty much every other developed country in the world has taxes at 40% of GDP or more. And this tax rate is also somehow meant to pay for the largest and most bloated defence budget in the world, two foreign wars and all the other expenses at the same time as paying off the deficit. It's simply not possible.


That picture above comes from the New York Times. The reason I've put it in here is because it illustrates one of the biggest problems with the American financial situation. Back when Bush was president he introduced massive tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations which took taxation on them to the lowest for sixty years. These tax cuts were meant to stimulate growth and trickle down distribution of the new wealth generated. In practice none of this happened and the US was saddled with a debt from those tax cuts alone which amounts to more than all the borrowing Obama has done so far put together.

It's pretty basic. You can't maintain a level of spending as high as the US and keep on lowering taxes at the same time. Something has to give.

However, despite that, Obama agreed to a deal where there will be no tax rises and where the deficit will be reduced entirely through cuts to spending. So what's the problem? Well, the problem is that the Republicans don't think this is good enough. In addition to reducing the deficit entirely through cuts, they also want to make sure that none of the cuts fall on the defence budget (which, as I've already mentioned, is the largest and most bloated in the world) and that there are additional cuts to welfare - something which would completely undo all of what Obama feels he has achieved since becoming President.

So now we have a Mexican stand off. Both sides are playing the blame game whilst the US comes ever closer to the deadline where it will either have to default on its debt (something which would quite literally bring down the entire global economy) or shut down the federal government, something which would mean real hardship for millions of Americans.

To my mind, the Republicans really are to blame here. It is not possible for the US to pay of its debt without raising taxes even slightly. If it were any other country in the world, the markets would have downgraded America's credit rating already, effectively pulling the plug on their economy and turning them into another Greece. The only reason this hasn't happened yet is because the markets know that if they did so then they would crash the global economy.

But with the Republicans playing their game of brinkmanship it is highly likely that that could happen. And if it does then it doesn't matter who scores the political points because the entire financial system would utterly collapse, bringing a swift end not only to American hegemony, but also to the entire world as we know it.

And even if some eleventh hour compromise is reached it does not change the fact that America's political system and media will ensure that this problem keeps on emerging again and again and again. The US is hopelessly divided on partisan lines and not only does each side view the other as the ultimate enemy, each side also lives in a different reality to the other. As far as I can see it is the Republicans who are living in an economically illiterate fantasy land but that doesn't matter a jot because they have the political and media clout to have just as much of a say over decision making as the sane people.

So, to put it bluntly, America is fucked.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Oslo bomber didn't act alone

This is a cross-post of a piece of mine which has appeared on uberpolitics.

Well, as we all know, the person who planted the bombs and carried out the shootings was one Anders Behring Breivik who claims he acted alone.

Except of course, he didn't. It certainly seems likely that he's the only person who directly killed people but that doesn't mean he acted alone.

As more and more information emerges it's becoming clear that this was an individual who held anti-Islamic, anti-left, anti-tolerance beliefs. In short, he was a neo-Nazi who defined his enemy as Muslims rather than as Jews.

He belongs to a school of thought and an ideology that has become increasingly prevalent over the past decade or so. There will always be disturbed people capable of slaughtering innocents but even then most of them need some sort of "reason" to justify their actions to themselves. For the 9/11 suicide bombers it was a distorted version of Islam - one which is preached in Saudi mosques and which is indirectly financed by the Saudi monarchy. For Breivik it was a narrative of impending Muslim domination of Europe.

The narrative is what provides people with the reasons to justify killing innocent people. Breivik, was motivated by a fear of "Islamic colonisation" and even published a manifesto to that effect. In it he references numerous right-wing websites such as Jihad Watch (I'm not going to link to it, you can find it for yourself if you have to). The founder of Jihad Watch frequently appears on Fox News in the US to talk about the threat of "Eurabia". He peddles a narrative of impending Islamic domination which is based on complete ignorance of migration trends, population growth rates and the beliefs and values of Islam itself.

This narrative is what motivated Breivik and it is what will almost inevitably motivate others like him to carry out acts ranging from racially motivated murders all the way up to terrorist mass killings. The Oklahoma bomber and Breivik all share a common creed.

But they didn't invent this creed. This creed was invented by semi-celebrity right wing journalists and politicians across the western world. In the US its adherents can be found in the Tea Party movement and in Fox News, in the UK they can be found in parties like the BNP and in news organisations such as the Daily Express.

It is journalists and politicians who peddle a narrative based on lies which motivates others to hate filled acts. In the UK we have people like Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail who has written newspaper columns and an entire book about "Londonistan". We have Richard Littlejohn and Paul Dacre. We have the people who write newspaper headlines saying "Council Spends Your Money on Muslim-only Loo!" In the Netherlands you have people like Dutch MP Geert Wilders.

All of these people nominally distance themselves from violence. They profess horror at the actions of people like the BNP (though the Daily Express now acts as a champion for the EDL). Yet it is they who create the ideology that trickles down and inspires the extremist adherents to actually carry out violence. They are just as much the culprits of the Norway terror attack as Breivik is.

But, because they distance themselves from violence and say they don't condone it, they get away with it and keep on peddling the same old myths which fuel it.

They have blood on their hands yet pass as respectable members of society.

Breivik may have started the fire, but they're the ones who gave him the matches.

EDIT: It's been pointed out to me that, whilst there is overlap between some of its members and the type of islamophobia I've mentioned, the Tea Party is actually a fiscal conservative movement with that being its primary motivation. Sorry for associating them with this unfairly.

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Saturday, 23 July 2011

The final word on the phone hacking scandal

So I think that this is probably all that needs to be said to the Murdoch's and News International with regards to the phone hacking scandal:
That is all.

For Norway

I was going to write something about the tragic and evil events that have recently taken place in Norway.

But, as always, there are those who can say things far better than I ever could.

And so I'd instead like to point you towards the words of Stephen Glenn which I feel are incredibly apt and which deserve a wider audience. You can read what he's said here. He's written in both Norwegian and English and I strongly suggest you go and read it all.

But if not, here are some extracts:
The only way I can even attempt to think of the impact is to think of all the politically active members if Liberal Youth I know and thinking that maybe as much as one in four of them were wiped out in one horrendous afternoon at Activate. But even that is something that is hard to take in.  
Or maybe one of the summer campaigns I have been on, thinking that a large number of the people on those teams were enjoying an afternoon in the sun and then a large proportion of them being suddenly wiped out.
And:
My thoughts and prayers are with all in Norway at this time. Those who have lost dear ones. But also everyone who cannot believe this has happened in their peaceful country. 
Those young people were hoping for and working for a brighter future. Everyone in the world should take up their torch and ensure that we acheive that in their memory.  
Amen to that.

Friday, 22 July 2011

ESA motion accepted!

Excellent news! I have received confirmation that the motion I drafted (but officially proposed by Liberal Youth) for the Lib Dem autumn conference has been accepted! [EDIT: The motion will be debated on the Sunday] It's been chopped and changed quite a bit from my original draft but the core of it is still there and it is now much more succinct and to the point. Some final editing is still taking place (slight changes in wording, grammar, etc.) by Liberal Youth at the behest of the Federal Conference Committee but the final version to be proposed to conference should, for all intents and purposes, be almost identical to this:
Policy Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments  
Conference notes:
a) That the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work.
b) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare who are paid on a target based system for every claimant assessed fit to be removed from claiming ESA and back into work.
c) 70% of case rejection decisions by Atos assessments which go to appeal are subsequently overturned.
d) The appeal success rate is much higher for claimants with representation than those without.
e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted has been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.

Conference believes that:
a) It is the duty of a compassionate society and the Government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
b) The new Assessment procedure is "not fit for purpose".
c) The Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate.
d) Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals.
e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, it is wrong to have a system where the primary focus is on keeping people from claiming the benefit and treating every claimant as a potential fraudster, rather than a focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
f) A system where 70% of decisions are overturned at appeal is not cost effective due to the high cost of holding appeal tribunals and the associated administration costs.
g) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses a "tick box" technique, does not take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.

Conference calls for:
a) All medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by trained professionals.
b) An overhaul of the assessment process moving the focus to ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and that the disabled get the support they need.
c) Any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
d) The replacement of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group with the introduction of a time limit dependent on individual circumstances.
e) The assessment criteria to be made clearer so that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness which is so debilitating as to warrant ESA being paid.
f) The appeal process to be sped up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.
This is great news for two reasons. The first is that I finally get to speak at conference (woo!) and practice my oratory. The second is that it might hopefully be the start of some real change in the way disabled people in this country are treated.

As a brief guide, the situation at the moment is as follows: the primary support disabled people who are unable to work receive is the Employment Support Allowance. Eligibility for the ESA is determined by means of a tick-box, points-based assessment system conducted by Atos Healthcare employees who quite frequently lack medical knowledge of the disabilities claimants have. The assessment system fails to take into account the wide range of disabilities and the time variant nature of some of them - for example, a person with Clinical Depression might well be able to pick a piece of paper up off the floor (one of the tests in the assessment) as long as they're on a good day but that still doesn't magically render them fit for work. Another problem with the assessment system is that medical evidence is not taken into account. So, someone who was born deaf, has been assessed and diagnosed as deaf by a range of medical professionals and who has all the medical documentation to prove it will not be considered disabled unless the assessment process says he is - all that medical evidence is worthless. Aside from this, a frequent complaint about the assessment process is the underhand way in which it is carried out. For example, one question asked at assessment is "do you watch television?" - if the person answers yes then they are assumed to be capable of sitting down for thirty minutes at a time.

So that's the assessment process. Because of its flaws, a vast majority of people denied support by the assessment system are forced to go through an expensive appeal process. Of those who do, 70% get the decisions overturned on appeal - primarily because the appeal tribunals allow medical evidence to be taken into account. Though even then claimants who have won at appeal are then called in for another assessment which again finds them ineligible for the ESA despite the tribunal's decision, forcing the poor individual to go through the whole appeal's process again. This is bonkers. In fact, the assessment system is so broken that even the person who designed it says so.

Now, even if a claimant is found eligible for ESA it's time limited for one year. After one year they will be expected to have found a job and ESA will be cut off. If they haven't got a job then tough luck. Now, aside from the obvious problem of people with disabilities that prevent them from ever working, how exactly are disabled people meant to be able to find jobs at a time when over a million able bodied people are unable to do so?

And people with ESA are utterly dependent on it. Many of them need it to pay for food, or heating or the rent. For many disabled people ESA is quite literally the only thing that keeps them from the gutter. So if they're denied it, or don't manage to find a job within a year, then they're cut off from aid from the welfare system. Disabled people often have medical expenses higher than those of most people (whilst medication is available on the NHS, that isn't always the case for things like walking sticks or carers) so they are even less able to cope than most people. And even if they somehow find a way to meet their expenses then the stressfulness of the entire procedure often makes their conditions worse. Put yourselves in the shoes of a person with depression, or multiple sclerosis, who has to go through an assessment process which works on the assumption that they are trying to cheat the system and is then unilaterally declared to be lying (for that is, in effect, what being rejected by the assessment process amounts to). Can you even begin to imagine the devastating impact that will have on them in addition to the worries of how they'll be able to pay their bills?

And that's not even beginning to mention the constant stream of stories in the media about "benefit scroungers" and "layabouts" trying to cheat the system. Even people who've successfully made it through the assessment process still have to deal with an attitude that they're just sponging off the system from people ranging all the way from council workers to newspaper columnists to cabinet ministers so just try and comprehend how it must feel to those who are having that message reinforced by the system itself? Oh, and for the record, the fraud rate for ESA is estimated to cost the taxpayer £25 million a year out of a welfare budget of tens of billions of pounds.

Now, like I said, that's just a brief summary of the situation and it completely glosses over the people at the heart of this and the heartbreaking stories that many of them have to tell. We've got a system that mistreats and neglects and humiliates the most vulnerable people in society. The only reason this situation came about under the last government and persists under this government is because the disabled lack a voice. They're easy to ignore. They're not photogenic and they don't count for many votes so both the media and the politicians ignore them. The system we have is worthy of a third world nation and not one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Thankfully, the acceptance of the motion on to the agenda means that it will hopefully be passed by conference. And if it is passed by conference then hopefully our party's MPs will take note (as they did with the NHS motion back in March) and then they might just be able to get the government to change this appalling state of affairs. I hope so at any rate because, if not, then hundreds of the UK's most vulnerable people will, in some cases quite literally, be forced into the streets to fend for themselves.

If anyone reading this wants to help (and, assuming you have a heart I assume most of you will) then at the moment the motion desperately needs heavyweight supporters to speak in its favour at conference. If you know anyone who might be willing to do so then please leave a comment saying so. Thank you.

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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Where do I fit in?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has a new tool which lets you calculate how wealthy or poor you are compared with the rest of the population.

The quiz asks you for your income, how many people there are in your household and how much your council tax bill is. So I decided to give it a go using the value of what my notional income will be in my first job after graduating. As a student of engineering, when I graduate the average starting salary for my profession is £24,000 a year. If I assume that I'll have to pay an average council tax bill of £120 a month then I'd work out to have an income higher than 73% of the population which is equivalent to 47.3 million people.

It really makes you think and puts in context just how screwed up earnings in this country are. Professionals earning £25,000+ make up just a tiny proportion of the population and everyone else has to make do with far less than most of my peers would consider a "basic" income. It definitely challenges your assumptions.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Google Plus

About a week ago I finally wrangled an invite to google+ - Google's new social networking platform. And let me tell you, I love it. It feels similar to facebook but it's more user friendly. I especially love the fact that you have full control over your privacy and data and that you can group people into circles and choose who gets to see which elements of your content. Now for most people this is a big selling point. After all, if someone sends you a friend request on facebook, such as your boss or your mother, then it would be rude to decline it. But once you've added them as a friend then they can see your profile. All your pictures, all your statuses. Now who really wants to have their boss see them griping about their job? Or their mother to see pictures of them snogging some random girl on a night out?*

But, the problem is that there aren't that many people on google+. Not yet at any rate. Apparently they got 10 million users in their first week. Great. But facebook has 750 million. So I still have to use facebook.

Now obviously when they end the invite-only system the number of users will increase and I may well be able to use plus more than I do facebook but it'll be a long time coming and lots of people will stick with facebook and what they know.

So facebook shouldn't be too worried about plus as a competitor. But today something showed up in my stream on plus and that's what prompted me to write this post.

See, the key thing about plus is that it's linked in with all of google's other products. Products which, when you think about it, do everything all the essential software on your computer does. Email? Check. Word processing? Check. Spreadsheets and slideshows? Check. Calender? Check. Photos? You guessed it - check.

At the moment if someone wants to send a co worker a file then they need to email it. For most people this entails going on to the web, logging into their email account, attaching the file to an email and then sending it. And if the file isn't on their work computer then they'll have had to email it to themselves from home or wherever else the file is stored. Of course there is software which lets you store files remotely and share them between all your computers but these have a size limit and you have to pay if you want to store more than just a small collection of files on there.

But with google+ all those files, and all the software to make those files, is all online via your google account. Wherever you are in the world, as long as you're online, you can create and access them. And you can share them as well, with google+. Everything becomes integrated, all your data becomes accessible wherever you are in the world.

That's the argument that was being made in a slide show that popped up in my stream on google+. And it argued that the reason behind google creating plus wasn't in order to try and out-compete facebook or twitter. They've already got huge shares of the social networking market and it'll be a lot of hard work for plus to ever replace either of them in that context. But when you've got a platform that integrates software, files, file sharing, your contacts and email - with the potential for games and apps to be inegrated as well, then what you've essentially got is everything your computer already does. Except you don't have to pay for the software and it's all universally portable. If you use it fully then you don't need to worry about updating microsoft office, or working out how to use microsoft access. You don't have to worry about whether to save files in '97 compatible version or not. In short, you don't need to worry about the computer.

What this is essentially doing is establishing the cloud. 'The cloud' is the term used to describe a theoretical model where everyone stores all their software and data remotely on the internet and can access it wherever they are via a simple access device - such as a laptop or a smartphone. The cloud is going to be a huge market in the future simply because of the convenience of it all for the users. And, by setting up google+, Google has just created its own platform to tie all of the elements of the cloud together.

What this slideshow was saying is that this isn't about trying to dominate the social media market, this is about trying to dominate the cloud market. And from what I've seen so far it looks like that assessment is absolutely spot on. It's not facebook and twitter that should be worried - it's Microsoft and Apple.

Keep your eye on google+ - it might well be the future.

UPDATE - Google has launched chromebooks, a web access only device - exactly what you need if you intend to switch to the cloud. I want one already. I guess I'll have to wait until I've got a proper excuse to buy one though.

* - Not that I've ever done any of these things in the event that my employer or relatives should ever read this.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Statporn - giggity

A while ago I started using google analytics to track what was happening on my blog. And now it's been well over a month so I thought I'd share the wonderful statistics with you.

First of all, I'd like to say thank you to the 554 unique visitors who visited the Potter Blogger between the 11th of June and the 11th of July who between them contributed 754 visits. Out of these visits 502 were new visitors while 252 were returning visitors.

Between them these visitors contributed 1,115 page views and looked at an average of 1.48 pages per visit. The average time spent on the site was 1 minute and 27 seconds.

The most popular keywords (excluding variants of "the Potter Blogger") were "motion nick clegg no confidence", "best video ever", "lib dem chat up lines" and "egra" (East Guildford Residents Association)

So, that's all the statporn finished. Don't you just love it? Or is that just sad mathematical types like me?

New Logo

Regular readers of this blog might have noticed the presence of a nice, shiny new logo at the top of the page. This was designed for me by a good friend of mine, Lauren, whose website can be found here.

The logo in question.

What's especially impressive is that she managed to come up with this after just one attempt and with only the vague specification of "Something with the name of the blog and a stylised version of the bird of liberty". Needless to say, I love the new logo.

So, if any of you reading this want a spiffing logo for your own website, or, indeed, want a website designing, I can't recommend her highly enough.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Holier than thou

I was recently described as having a "holier than thou" attitude by a Labour acquaintance of mine over the phone hacking scandal and, more broadly, the intertwined relationship of the Murdoch empire and politicians.

And, in fairness, I, and most other Lib Dems, probably do have such an attitude over phone hacking - we're certainly feeling rather smug about it.

But I would (and did) argue that we have every right to have that attitude. We're the only party that didn't court Murdoch or drop everything to pay homage when he called a conference (as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Ed Miliband have all done) and we're the only party that has consistently argued against Murdoch's influence over the media and politics.

But more than that, our people have been absolutely on the ball about this. After the very first enquiry only found two people responsible and overlooked masses of evidence of more illegal phone hacking, Chris Huhne criticised the outcome and warned that the Met needed to explain why it hadn't conducted a thorough investigation. Then, when the coalition was formed, the senior Lib Dem statesmen and former party leader Paddy Ashdown warned Cameron not to hire Andy Coulson as the Number 10 communications director. Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne repeated the warning but David Cameron ignored their advice. And then we had the Telegraph undercover reporters who revealed that Vince Cable had been determined to refer Murdoch's BSkyB takeover bid to the independent regulator Ofcom.

And since the revelations have become apparent we have had dozens of senior Lib Dems (including Nick Clegg) speaking out about the matter. Two of the more important things said are Nick Clegg's description of the Press Complaints Commission as a "busted flush", which indicates long standing Lib Dem support for replacing it with an independent, statutory regulator, and Chris Huhne's assertion (where he was probably acting under orders from Nick Clegg) that the Lib Dems would back Labour if they tried to force the BSkyB takeover decision to be referred to the regulator - with the proviso that Labour don't make it about political point scoring.

In short, when it comes to Murdoch and News International, the Lib Dems are the only party that has always, and consistently, made the right calls. And this is essentially because of the deep-seated liberal principle that unaccountable concentrations of power and influence (of the type that Murdoch embodies) should always be opposed and tackled head on.

So on this, if we appear to be thinking that we are holier-than-thou, then that's because we are.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Three cheers for Ed Miliband!

Okay, I have a confession to make. I thought of Ed Milliband as a useless muppet with no principles of note. I still do, to be honest.

But watching Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday, Ed Milliband was brilliant. For the first time he was doing the job that the leader of the opposition is meant to do and holding the government to attack. When it comes to the News of the World phone hacking scandal, the government and the police have dragged their feet. As Ed Milliband said, an independent inquiry is needed. But the phone hacking wasn't just a few bad eggs at one newspaper - it was systemic across the tabloids even if (according to rumour) some of them (such as the Mail) have gone clean in recent years. But more than that, the lack of responsibility, the attempted cover ups, the denials and the hefty out of court settlements by News International show it to be an organisation as morally bankrupt and unaccountable as people such as myself always suspected. The only way for the government (or, more accurately, the Conservatives) do come out of this without being tarnished by their association (both professionally and personally) with News International is to halt Murdoch's takeover of Sky by referring it to Ofcom. Remarkably, even ConservativeHome (that home of neo-and-not-so-neo thatcherite fanatics) has said that the takeover bid needs to be halted. I can just imagine Vince Cable sitting very smugly in the cabinet today and just managing to avoid saying "I told you so".

The other great thing about this is that we will probably see an end to self-regulation of the press. The current regulatory body, the PCC, has been about as much use as a roll of kitchen towel during a flood and an independent, statutory regulator is well overdue. The other silver lining is, of course, the way  in which advertisers are rushing to boycott the News of the World. With a bit of luck, this boycott, coupled with the phone hacking scandal, will kill off the News of the World.

So all in all, well done to Ed Miliband for putting pressure on Cameron over this. For the first time I'm starting to see him as someone potentially worthy of respect.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Top ten Lib Dem chat up lines!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

As I type, twitter is going crazy for #LDchatuplines.

So I have taken it upon myself to compile a list of the top ten Lib Dem chat up lines that I have seen so far:
  • I'd like to reform your lower chamber
  • As a LibDem candidate how would you like to take my deposit?
  • Get your anorak - you've pulled
  • Can I put you down as a firm yes or a soft no?
  • Hi, I'm doing a residents survey... What's your name? What's your phone number? Are you free next Saturday?
  • How would you feel about getting involved with a gang of four?
  • Here's 20p. That's not to call your Mum to tell her you've pulled. That's the amount of money in any given week that an average tax payer will save under our fairer tax proposals.
  • I always use protection, how else do you stop Labour?
  • Hi, I'm Lembit Opik.
  • Huhne's your daddy.
  • My bed's a multi-member constituency.
If you don't get any of the above then you need to a) join the Lib Dems and b) get out less. There is also a facebook page where more chat up lines can be found.