Tag Archives: politics

The Problem with Men

If there’s one thing to take away from “The Problem With Men” is that there is an International Men’s Day and it’s on November 19th. Is that two things?

But you probably knew that.

The problem with this book is that it’s very much preaching to the choir. If you’re un-ironically asking when International Men’s Day is on March 8th, this book is not likely to be on your radar.

That’s a shame as it nicely lays out the argument for International Women’s Day, equality, feminism and counters many of the rather odd objections. The chapters are mostly questions, from “What’s wrong with asking when is International men’s day on International Women’s Day?” to “Can a man really be a feminist?” It’s short — one chapter is a single word! — to the point and amusing.

In summary, it’s a must-read for the very people who won’t read it.

How to be a Liberal

You can’t say that it lacks ambition. Ian Dunt’s “How to be a Liberal“:

tells the forgotten story of the advance of liberalism and the events which led to its current retreat.

And, by and large, it succeeds. I’m not qualified to say how complete it is — he may have missed out half of the story for all I know — but from Descartes to Mills, to Keynes, Orwell, Trump and Brexit, the history is here, right up to events of 2020. It’s well researched and mostly easy to read1. Having heard the author on various podcasts, I might have expected more swearing.

From a personal point of view, I think it clarifies a lot of my thinking and opinions, putting a name and a structure around things that I’ve likely believed for a long time but had never known the correct label.

In the UK, “liberal” is often understood to be directionless, wishy-washy, neither Labour nor Conservative. I never thought I was without principle. Being in favour of private enterprise doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be limits. A belief in personal responsibility doesn’t mean that I think people should end up destitute for mistakes or bad luck.

I never thought I was without principle, but perhaps I lacked the vocabulary to easily explain where I was coming from. With its discussion of the “harm principle,” the English Civil War, the American and French Revolutions, Keynes and Hayek, I now have a better handle on that framework.

It also ends on a positive note. I don’t know about you, but I needed that.


  1. A few typos and dodgy sentences made it into print. Not enough to spoil the book but enough to be noticeable. ↩︎

How to be right

Sometimes I can’t help being a bit of a liberal caricature. James O’Brien is one too, and he knows it.

In his book “How to be right… in a world gone wrong” he goes through a bunch of topics, from Islam to Political Correctness, and debunks the common arguments, often using transcripts from his radio show. The chapter on The Age Gap is, perhaps, the one that made me think the most.

If you live in the same bubble that I do, you’ll probably find that it’s not essential reading. Which is not to say that it’s badly written or poorly argued or difficult to read. It isn’t. It’s a quick, enjoyable read. There’s just not a lot that’s new.

The Establishment

The Establishment” by Owen Jones is another Brexit-inspired read, though it was actually written before the referendum and some of it has dated remarkably quickly because of that.

It reads like a long Guardian article. Or, maybe, as a collection of Guardian columns strung together, in the sense that some turns of phrase seem to repeat often. If they’d not been in one book it might have been less noticeable? And the politics are similarly left-leaning.

Overall it’s an easy read if you agree with the thrust of the argument that the West is controlled by the wealthy. It’s supported by copious notes but many are from newspapers rather then original research so I’m not sure how convincing they are.

To me the weakest bit was the “conclusions” section where suggestions are made for fixing things, but that’s probably because I wasn’t convinced they were the right ones. Of course, like any armchair pundit, however, I don’t have any better ones…

Write to your MP about Brexit!

I’m sick of last years referendum on our membership of the EU being used to justify… pretty much anything. And any criticism is met with “you have to respect the will of the people.”

Well, I’m a person and I don’t think my will is being respected by many politicians and much of the media. The result of the referendum doesn’t say that people are happy with a so-called Hard Brexit, dismantling the NHS or using EU citizens as negotiation pawns.

I don’t write to my MP very often but, especially because of our current lack of an effective opposition, this is the ideal time. My MP said “Now we need to influence best Brexit we can.” I agree, but uncritically voting for Article 50 and the governments haphazard approach isn’t it.

My wife has put together the above graphic. Please feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Friendster, whatever social media you use. And if you’re willing to mail an actual postcard, please let me know — we have some that we’re willing to share.

February 12: contact form removed due to spam. Feel free to contact me on Twitter

Blocks, both technical and mental

Blocking content from the Internet is getting a lot of press of late. The last couple of weeks has seen the Pirate Bay being blocked by a number of large ISPs and debate over whether the blocking of “adult” content should be opt-in or opt-out.

Unfortunately the enthusiasm to “protect the children” and “protect the copyright holders” seems to have pushed aside much of the debate of whether we should be doing this at all or whether it’s practical.

Whether we should be doing it or not is political. I have my opinions1 but what I want to concentrate on here is whether or not blocking such content is actually possible.

There are a number of different ways of vetting content. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they’re all deeply flawed.

First, a common one from politicians: the Internet is just like TV and cinema:

Perry said that she has been accused of censorship over the campaign, but argued that the internet was no different to TV and radio and should be regulated accordingly.

No, no it isn’t. There are a handful of TV channels, even taking cable and satellite into account, and a relatively small number of movies released every week. It’s practical to rate movies. TV programmes are distributed centrally, so pressure can be placed on a small number of UK-based commercial entities when they do naughty things.

The Internet is very different. Firstly, counting the number of web pages is rather harder. This is what Wikipedia has to say:

As of March 2009, the indexable web contains at least 25.21 billion pages.[79] On July 25, 2008, Google software engineers Jesse Alpert and Nissan Hajaj announced that Google Search had discovered one trillion unique URLs.

Note that even the smaller number is from three years ago. I’d bet that it’s not smaller now. Clearly the same system of rating an regulation clearly isn’t going to work on that scale. And even if it was possible to rate each of these sites, the UK government has little leverage over foreign websites.

There are basically three ways to automate the process: white list, black list and keyword scanning.

A white list says “you can visit these websites.” Even assuming no new websites are ever added and no new content is ever created, rating those 25 billion pages is not practical. I don’t think we want an official approved reading list.

A black list is the opposite: “you can visit anything except these pages.” We have the same scale problem as with white lists and a few more. Much of the Internet is “user contributed” and it’s not hard to create new sites. If my site is blocked, I can create a new one with the same content very, very quickly. Basically, there’s just no way to keep on top of new content.

Keyword scanning is exactly as it sounds. Your internet traffic is scanned and if certain keywords are spotted, the page is blocked. It’s automated and dynamic, but what keywords do you look for? “Sex”? Well, do you want to block “sex education” websites? “Porn”? That would block anti-porn discussion as well as the real thing.

The scanners can be a lot more sophisticated than this but the fundamental problem remains: there’s no way to be sure that they are blocking the correct content. Both good and bad sites are blocked, and still with no guarantee that nothing untoward gets through.

In all cases, if children can still access “adult” content with relative ease — both deliberately and accidentally — what’s the point?

Of course I’m not in favour of taking content without paying for it or exposing children to inappropriate material. But, to use a cliche, the genie is out the bottle. Like the reaction to WikiLeaks there is little point in pretending that nothing has changed or that the same techniques and tools can be used to fight them.

Instead, if you’re a publisher you need to make your content legally available and easier to access than the alternative. iTunes has showed that people are willing to pay. So far, you’ve mostly shown that you’d rather treat paying customers as criminals. That’s not helping.

As for protecting children, it all comes back to being a responsible parent. Put the computer in the living room. Talk to them. Sure, use white or black lists or filtering, just be aware that it can never be 100% effective and that not everyone has children that need protecting. Whatever the Daily Mail and your technically unaware MP says, you can’t say the connection is being checked, problem solved.

  1. I’m basically anti-censorship and in favour of personal responsibility. There are already laws covering the distribution obscene materials, why should there be restrictions on legal materials? []