British Political Parties need Reformation

This post is going to be somewhat broad brushed, I’m aware there are fine degrees and other issues. I’m also not expecting this to happen,

There are three key policy areas from my point of view, Europe (in-out along with immigration), Austerity and civil liberties (vs security).

Current status

Labour is split between a real left wing party that believes austerity as it stands is unnecessary and harmful (Jeremy Corbyn, the unions and a majority of party members) and in the New Labour wing which is the majority in Parliament. They are largely EU positive although some on the left are concerned that it is too much under the control of big business. On civil liberties they have been fairly weak at least since New Labour with a high willingness to favour security over liberty although there are fair numbers who do care about civil liberties.

The SNP are very similar to the Corbyn wing of the Labour party with the obvious exception of their wish for full independence for Scotland.

The Conservatives share a belief in austerity but with varying positions on the extent of public services and spending if the economic times were better. Their instinct is generally to cut taxes before investing in improved services. There is a huge and obvious split on the EU, with a majority of members anti-EU and split roughly in half in Parliament. On civil liberties most lean towards the security side but there are notable exceptions.

The Liberal Democrats are largely grudgingly accepting of austerity, pro EU and lean to the civil liberties side on security issues.

UKIP is obviously anti-EU and anti-immigration, they mostly favour security over civil liberties and I’m not up to date on their economic policy. Farage is very financially

As I write the Labour party is tearing itself apart. MPs have been briefing against Jeremy Corbyn continuously since before he was elected by the membership, union members and paying supporters (I’m one of these). The fundamental issue is whether Labour is to be a party of the left, opposing austerity, skeptical of foreign military interventions or to continue the New Labour direction of aiming for the centre, prioritising victory to then be in position to slightly mitigate the effects of globalisation and rising inequality rather than attempt to achieve true social justice.

Imagined Alternative structure

In my personal view there needs to a party articulating a true left position, opposing austerity and fighting for true social justice. This is critical for several reasons even if it is hard or impossible for such a party to win a majority as without it the other parties are pulled relentlessly to the right. Without a party holding a realistic leftwing position there is no centre for the New Labour type parties to triangulate themselves to, and the risk is that the Conservatives move further right to distinguish and differentiate themselves. It is also essential that there is a party prepared to stand up and argue for the marginalised, whether those on benefits, refugees or other migrants.

Given all that I think that a more natural arrangement of parties would be for the Labour party to be Corbyn’s and the membership’s left wing party fighting for disadvantaged, for greater equality and an end to austerity. I can imagine it cooperating closely on many issues with the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru.

The Blairite, New Labour wing has more in common with much of the Conservative party. I feel that  a centre-right (although they would think themselves the party of the centre) party could be formed; lets call it the Popular Party. I’m picturing it taking maybe 150 of the current Labour MPs and 100 Conservatives. I could imagine it becoming the official opposition, possibly in a highly pro-EU stance working with the Liberal Democrats. If it didn’t oppose Brexit it would push for a close relationship even if some element of free movement was required.

Then comes the bulk of the Conservatives, largely anti-EU, very keen on privatisation and business deregulation. It would probably subsume many of the non-racist elements of UKIP.

Now while this may better fit the political views across the country and Parliament than the current status the first past the post electoral system acts against it and major party realignments are rare and usually harmful to the parties involved. Having said that anything seems possible at the moment and I feel that there has to be a split in the Labour Party. Whether the Conservatives also split may depend on how unpopular their next leader.

Bombing Syria

True statements

  1. ISIS deserve to be bombed.
  2. The UK can bomb ISIS in Syria.

But that doesn't mean the UK Should Bomb ISIS

Whether to bomb ISIS is the controversy at the moment and I've been shuffling around on the fence for some time. On the one hand ISIS are clearly dangerous, vicious, evil and if they can be destroyed or defeated it will be a better world. On the other bombing is never clean, surgical or free from collateral damage; non-combatant men, women and children will die.

Shoot to Kill

I don't think anyone is suggesting that a terrorist using automatic weapons on the public or police they should not be stopped as quickly as possible and if it costs the terrorist's life very few tears will be shed.

A shoot to kill policy is different, it is a preference for dead bodies over arrests and trials and this should never be the policy in civilised countries.

I would describe my view as being that the policy should be shoot to protect and to save lives. Where shots are taken there are likely to be deaths but they are not the aim or the policy.

History

For those too young (or insufficiently British/Irish) to be aware there was considerable controversy about whether a shoot to kill policy was in operation particularly with the SAS with regard to the IRA and was particularly controversial when the [3 IRA members were shot dead in Gibraltar](http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/three_ira_members_shot_dead_in_gibraltar).

Language About Terrorism and ISIS

Cowardly

This is just an asinine description for suicide bombers. These are people expecting to die for their beliefs. There isn't a shortage of descriptions that really can be applied to them, vicious, barbaric and murderous to suggest just three. To use the cowardly just devalues both language, whatever arguments you are making and any other words.

ISIS is Islamic

ISIS is clearly Islamic,(Very Islamic) they talk about Islam all the time and they follow large parts of the Qu'ran to great precision.

BUT

Islam is not ISIS. There are clearly a wide spread of views amongst those regarding themselves as Muslims and a vast majority are opposed to ISIS. That ISIS exists is no more the responsibility of most Muslims than the existence of the Westboro Baptist Church is the responsibility of a Church of England congregation in the UK (it isn't their responsibility).

Some things I Think

Some of these things I don't normally say mostly because I'm don't want to offend people but today je suis Charlie and if people are going to take offence at this they should be offended. These are some things that I mostly don't say where I know or think that there might be people who disagree or might be offended. Comments are enabled for you to express your disagreement.


Father Christmas doesn't exist (OK I only avoid saying this around children).

God doesn't exist. And this statement shouldn't be more shocking than the previous one even if you disagree.

Unquestioning belief is harmful. If you are on a mission from god how can that be reasoned with and debated.

If you believe in god I find it hard to see how it can be anything other than unquestioning (pre-renaissance god or gods might have appeared logical).

Unquestioning belief combined with power is scary (I'm thinking Tony Blair and GW Bush here in addition to those with power in ISIS).

Reading


Text preserved in case Tweet deleted or 

"Ever realised how fucking surreal reading a book actually is? You stare at marked slices of tree for hours on end, hallucinating vividly" - @KatieOldham


Svbtle vs. Posthaven

I’m giving Svbtle a try having used Posthaven for a few months. This is a quick comparison of how I find the two and a little commentary on some of the alternatives I’ve considered but haven’t yet tried. See this post on Svbtle.

Background

I’m fairly new to blogging, I’d been meaning to set up a blog for some time either off based on an existing open source blog/cms or creating my own basic one in Rails or Django but I hadn’t got round to it. I liked the attitude of Posthaven when it appeared, we will charge you money but you get to keep your name for life and I think it came out of the experience of one of the founders losing control of Posterious and it’s shutdown.

Posthaven Summary

  • Costs $5/month for upto 10 blogs
  • GUI post editor (a little clunky but it works)
  • Commitment to long term platform
  • Comments supported

Advantages

  • Permanence/business model
  • Manage multiple blogs including anonymous and/or private blogs and posts.

Disadvantages

  • Some of the Posthaven features require Facebook, Twitter, Scribd, Google Analytics scripts in the page and these are loaded (with associated privacy issues) on all your pages.
  • Not yet any way to theme/customise design which I don’t need for my general blogs but may want for special ones. # Svtle Summary
  • No cost (or business model)
  • Clean (bare) design

Svtle Summary

Advantages

  • Clean UI very clean (bare but I like it) page design.

Disadvantages

  • Lack of business model, no confidence in it staying ad-free and free in even the short/medium term.
  • No hit count - only Kudos.
  • Seems to add editorial subheadlines for you “Read this first”, “More by Joseph” # Alternatives
  • Wordpress is obviously the monster but feels over complicated and reportedly nasty to write plugins for so I personally wouldn’t want to get too deep into it. You can get it hosted or run local.
  • Medium which might be worth a look but requires a Twitter login so I haven’t tried. I also got put off by many of the articles on HackerNews that were linked to there being poor.

Self hosting

I hadn’t got round to getting set up myself so this would sort of defeat the purpose but there are a few options that I would consider.

  • Ghost seems like quite an interesting option that I should look at although it is Node so I might need to learn some Javascript if I was going to modify it at all. Hosted cost $5/month even for a single blog. Officially it only supports SQLite and MySQL - Postgres works but isn’t high enough priority to delay releases.
  • Octopress / Jekyll is probably where I should be going in the short term. I could self host or push to Github pages for this sort of thing and it supports Markdown which I am increasingly comfortable with.
  • Something hacked together with Rails or Django. No time to get it set up or support it in future.

Conclusion

I’m not quite happy with either for different reasons, will probably self host in the future.

The scripts from Google and Facebook will probably cause me to move away from Posthaven fairly soon. I use Noscript to avoid them when I am browsing and I would prefer not to impose them on readers as that would be hypocritical (although it does work fine without them if they are Noscript users).

As for Svbtle while I quite like the design and using Markdown but the lack of current business model bothers me and I’d rather migrate at my time of choosing than when they announce some new policy.


H.264 is OK, webm is not the answer for most people

[Originally a comment on hacker news on 29th May]

H.264 / MPEG4 part 10 / AVC

Yes it is patented which is a definite disadvantage compared with a theoretical[4] patent free codec but it has some real advantages.

1) The standard is controlled and defined by a collective industry group under the auspices of ISO. [1]

2) Most of the major players in video technology at the time took part in the standardisation so are committed to FRAND patent licensing terms. [2]

3) In almost all cases and commercial business models (that do not involve Free software) the MPEG-LA H.264 patent license is really very reasonable and unlikely to cause problems to an otherwise healthy business. Note that the license Google has to the MPEG-LA pool of patents while free is NOT compatible with Free software.

4) Any companies not in the MPEG-LA pool that popped up now with demands really would trolls in the original sense that they have sat under the bridge for a long time waiting for a juicy opportunity rather than being upfront earlier. I don't think that this would help them in a legal case although there is no guarantee that they don't exist. [3]

5) H.264 is really quite good although the latest codecs are showing what can be done with further development and processing power.

6) H.264 decoding (and often encoding) is cooked into a massive amount of existing and deployed devices in ways that cannot be adapted to VP8/VP9 by a software update.

For now H.264 is the no brainer option for any commercial system although multi codec support may be worthwhile in some cases. If you want patent free I recommend MPEG1 as I believe any patents on it should now be expired or at least expiring very soon if they were granted a long time after filing. I'm glad that Firefox has backed down and will now use the OS codecs to allow playback of H.264.

[1] The OOXML case shows that this isn't foolproof but in my view it is a better option than the standard being controlled by a single company even if the controlling company publishes the source code. This applied to Microsoft when they offered VC-1 as a free alternative to H.264 (there is now an MPEG-LA pool) and to Google now with VP8 and VP9 now. Google is the new Microsoft and has fully learnt the lessons of "Embrace, extend and extinguish".

[2] Not Free software compatible but better than nothing. And even Google's license to the VP8 patents from the MPEG-LA pool does not seem to grant Free software compatible rights.

[3] There is a greater risk of people popping up with claims against VP8 or VP9 as they are newer and less prominent. The MPEG-LA's call for a pool of patents has helped draw out those patent owners and many have joined the pool and reached terms with Google (although Nokia and maybe others haven't.

[4] Realistically for patent free greater than 20 years old is the answer so it probably needs to be MPEG1.