Archive for the ‘Government Sleaze’ Category

ESTA Tourist Tax

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

So I’m off to good ol’ USofA on Saturday. Whoop, whoop.

Like any other foreign visitor to the US, I had to “register” my travel with ESTA by filling out an online form, stating who I am, passport number, where I’m staying, if I’m a terrorist, blah, blah. It takes 5 mins to complete and seems mostly useless. Ah yes, and you also have to pay $14 for the privilege. So, it’s just a tax after all.

You’d be right in thinking that $14 is not a huge sum of money in the grand scheme of things, so, so what? It’s all in the message dude. And for me the message says:

– America is penny pinching and mean

– America is obsessed with money, mostly yours.

– America doesn’t like foreigners

That’s not good, is it.

Of course these are all subconscious thoughts, embedded somewhere inside me – perhaps forever, waiting for their turn to have a say.

So next time I think about taking a holiday in the US with my family, I might just forgo the glitz of Disney World and settle for the tranquil banana trees and volcanic beaches of Tenerife. Or when I think about expanding my growing (and sadly fictional) international business, I might just feel that Toronto is – on balance – a better slightly better choice.

We absolutely need taxes for society to function fairly, but if those trusted with collecting them abused that trust, then folks will just try and, well, avoid paying them altogether. Sound familiar?

Often big decisions are made from gut instinct. And it is in my gut where the legacy of that $14 tax also lives.


Radio4 play gentle with Anonymous

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

This morning we were treated to Evan Davis interviewing a “representative” of Anonymous “coldblood”

I was expecting a full on assault – to vilify the 22 year old as an internet thug, a hoodlum, the kind of scumbag that middle England DailMailers would like to see locked up, or at lest publicly flogged with wet kippers.

But no, we were treated to an interesting insight into the mind of the bright, young hacktavist who, to his credit, represented his cause with aplomb (being interviewed by radio4 would have scared the crap out me).

Credit to Evan for being fair.

Hackers are nor crackers. Hackers build stuff (small things like the Internet, open source software etc). Crackers break stuff and steal things. Although the talents and skills are similar, the intentions are very different. Similar to a kitchen knife – a lethal weapon or handy utensil for chopping tasty things.

But. Piss off the hackers and they’ll bite back. Hackers are also driven by a fierce sense of social justice and democracy. If any government thinks they can censor the internet <insert random wikileaks reference> then they clearly don’t understand what they are up against. These hacktivists will run rings around any organisation <insert visa/paypal/amazon/swiss banks  reference> who try to attack the freedoms upon which the internet was created. (One more thing – Switzerland? Moral standpoint? WTF??)

Is this the start of anarchy? Are we seeing a fundamental shift in the balance of power? Are governments getting a tiny bit nervous?

I hope so. The battle lines are being drawn,and I know who I’m backing.

Maybe even Evan’s gentle approach will win the hearts of Tunbridge Wells….

Why I Like Pirates

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

By Tom, age 6.

Once upon a time there was a Dark Lord called Lord Mandleson. His boss was a man called Mr Brown who’s got his own kingdom. Mr Brown had a terribly difficult year looking after his kingdom and so in August 2009 he went on holiday and left the Dark Lord in charge.

The people in the kingdom didn’t choose Lord Mandleson, so they didn’t really like him being in charge. This kingdom must have been really hard to rule, because after just a few days he also went on holiday, to an sunny island called Corfu to stay with his friends the Rothschild family and a man called Mr Geffen. The Rothschild were very, very rich and had a yacht and everything. Mr Geffen is a really important person in the music and movie business – he  even made Shrek!

Very soon after Lord Mandleson returns from his holiday, he announces that pirates on the internet are a really really big problem and that the government needs to make new laws really quickly to stop them from killing all our musicians. We were all scared.

These bad pirates were stealing all sorts of music and movies which made a lot of people very upset, but in particular the big important companies that look after musicians. Some clever people in France said that pirates would soon cost these companies €240 billion and 1.2 million jobs.

So the government made a new law called the Digital Economy Bill, which (amongst other things too complicated for me to understand) was meant to stop these bad pirates by making their internet slower and slower and eventually just stop. They thought that if the pirates couldn’t share music, they’d pop to the shops and buy a CD instead, just like a good person would. My daddy told me a story – when he was about my age, some big important people said the same things about “cassettes” and that they were constantly being told that “home taping is killing music”. I don’t really know what a cassette is, but he said he often used one to copy the radio before deciding which his fav bands were. Daddy has lots and lots of big black discs called records which play music when scratched by a needle. I’m asking Santa for one next Christmas.

So this law was rushed before the important men and women who run the kingdom – who all sit in a big room under a loud clock called Ben. There are 646 of these important people – 187 liked this Bill, 47 didn’t, the rest were probably on holiday. 20 of them talked for many, many hours and had lots of arguments, the other 174 must have been very naughty because they were busy being whipped. Lots of people wrote letters to the important men and women (20,000 – gosh), and a gazillion people on twitter all had a jolly good shout – all asking them to stop what they were doing and talk to some smart wizards who know lots about computers and things. But Mr Brown’s people were in a big rush and had no time for more talking. Maybe they didn’t really understand much about computers. Maybe they were just in a hurry to do the dishes because they kept talking about doing the washing-up.

At first I was really happy because all those musicians had been saved from the nasty pirates. But being small and curious (and a bit precocious), I wondered what the pirates were doing that was so nasty and evil. But all they were doing is sharing music with lots of people so they can also dance and sing along to their fav music. If I played guitar a bit better I’d want everyone in the world to hear it. These pirates don’t sound very nasty to me – I was always told that stealing is bad but sharing is good.

And then I wondered how you catch a pirate. Apparently, you can listen to them talking and catch them giving music away. They do lots of listening in far away places like China and Iran. I think Mr Brown wants to listen in to us as well. The trouble is that pirates are smart and it’s really easy for them to talk to each other without being heard. I have a best friend at school and we often write notes to each other in special secret code so that the teacher won’t understand what we’re talking about – it’s really fun and dead easy to do.

My daddy says that now that we’ve all got computers, he doesn’t bother buying records any more. He sometimes listens to music on the internet which is really clever and he sometimes plays me music that nobody has ever heard before. Some of it I like, but some sounds a bit like a strangled cat. I think he calls this “jazz” music.

The only people who don’t like pirates are the big important people who still make the records. But if people don’t want records any more, they might have to ask the pirates how they share music. Only really old people like my dad still use  records and the people that make them are even older – the Dark Lord Mandleson‘s friend is apparently over 200 years old!

The people in Mr Brown’s kingdom are going to choose a new leader soon. Not sure why, maybe they don’t like him or perhaps he’s too tired and grumpy. One of the people who wants his job is a very rich man with a big forehead who waves his arms around a lot. He’s also got some friends who really, really hates pirates and has promised to banish them from the face of the earth. Eurgh.

But there’s also a man called Mr Nick who thinks that big companies are bullies and that pirates aren’t so bad. Maybe they’ll become best of friends? I hope so, because I quite like pirates and I think I want to be one when I grow up. Either that or play guitar in a rock band and tour places like Corfu so that the whole world can listen to my music.

I’d wish I could choose who was going to run our kingdom, but they don’t think 6 year olds are important or clever enough.

I just hope there are enough clever people in the kingdom to do it for me.

The real crime behind MP’s expenses

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

My Sunday ritual often includes a trip to the gym. This usually permits me to enjoy the rest of the weekend relatively guilt free. On my way back, I pop into the local shop to pick up a drink and a newspaper. For some inexplicable reason I picked up The Sunday Telegraph – something I haven’t done in ages. The man in the shop I’ve known for many years, but whose name I’ve never bothered to find out. He keeps a very tidy shop and is always happy to exchange a few words with me. He is a good man.

I slap my scandal ridden paper on the counter and offer some trite comment about the latest headline. But I’m greeted with an impassive face, staring at me for just a moment too long.

“I’m sorry”, he offered, “my thoughts are elsewhere. At home, in Sri Lanka”.

His kind face belied his apparent agony and explained, “It’s genocide in my home town. I am so worried – the government are killing my people.”

I stood there not knowing what to say, so said nothing.

“They killed my father in front of me. That is why I am here. Soon they will kill them all and there will be no Tamils left”.

My thoughts turned to the current protests in parliament square and the contemptible apathy shown by the stack of pages in front of me.

“If you asked me many years ago, I would say I was Sri Lankan. But I am not. I am Tamil”. For a moment, so was I.

The queue behind me stirred with impatience, arms laden with trivialities. So I quickly paid, offered my sympathies and left, thoroughly ashamed that I had just contributed to – and help sustain – this media freak-show that was depriving us from important news.

The MP’s scandal has been going on for too long now, the media basking in sanctimonious hypocrisy, and fuelling public anger to sell yet more papers. Yes, they’ve been caught with their snouts in the trough – sack the offenders and lets move on. Quickly. Please.

There’s real news out there, but none I expect to find in the newspaper that lies unread on the kitchen table.