You can stop the speaker but not the speech

Tommy RobinsonI along with many others spent toddled along to Speakers Corner on a cold snowy Sunday to listen to a speech that if it hadn’t been for the actions of the UK Government probably wouldn’t have got me out of bed. A little while ago a chap called Martin Sellner wanted to come over to the UK to give a speech at Speakers Corner, personally I’d never heard of him but our ever vigilant Government had and decided to detain and deport him to prevent him spreading ideas that could undermine the very foundations of our society. Whilst they were are it, they deported his partner and also prevented a Canadian Journalist from visiting the UK. The latter two for wanting to interview Tommy Robinson and for saying that Allah was gay respectively. This obviously caused a bit of a kerfuffle on the internet and is rather worrying we shouldn’t be banning people just for ideas, let alone for wanting to interview people. As a response to this Mr Robinson announced that he’d toddle down to Speakers Corner himself and deliver the speech on Mr Sellners behalf. Well if the Government doesn’t want me hearing something I want to hear it, our Government apparently hasn’t heard of “the Streisand effect”. More than that though freedom of speech is far too important not to defend, and the people’s whose speech needs defending is those that we disagree with, that the Government doesn’t want us to hear, that anyone says shouldn’t be allowed to speak. So not to support anyone’s politics or beliefs but to support their right to speak and to express those ideas I hauled myself off to Speakers Corner to listen to what was to be said.

I didn’t get there terribly promptly but still slightly before Mr Robinson and there was a fair crowd gathered and waiting in what seemed to be a fairly relaxed and friendly atmosphere. I gather there had been some trouble just before I arrived but I didn’t directly witness anything. Moving towards the crowd I passed what appeared to be a Muslim gentleman calling for all those about him to remain calm and not cause trouble. The police were of course also present in abundance, the crowd was suitably diverse our glorious leaders would be pleased I’m sure that people of a wide variety of ethnic and class backgrounds and a wide variety of ages had all turned up to support the importance of free speech. Despite the dense crowding, especially when Mr Robinsons entourage went passed it was a very polite and British crowd with room being made and assistance given to those that needed to leave or escape the throng. Following some initial excitement and shouting, it was amongst one of the quietest crowds I’ve been in since I was last on pilgrimage to Walsingham. Often the most noise was from people going shush or saying “shut up we want to listen”. Despite that I heard barely a word despite not being too many yards away but it was windy and you’re not allowed to use voice amplification at Speakers Corner. It wasn’t a long speech and Mr Robinson was soon on his way, after which the crowd gradually thinned and dispersed, with very little fuss or disturbance. There was sadly some litter, discarded leaflets and banners left behind but far less than I’ve seen after “green” demos. What aggravation and proclivity towards trouble that I did see seemed to come from those that appeared to be ill-disposed towards Mr Robinson and his supporters and what they consider then to represent if not
towards the matter of the speech. During the heady days of the occupy movement the widely held wisdom was that to identify who wants a fight look to see who’s come prepared to have one, well today at least the masked and aggressive types were not those there to support either free speech or Mr Robinson.

As with all the best protests/demo’s/events things sojourned to a pub, where I got to meet a bevy of new and interesting people and matters of the day were discussed. I suspect that many people will complain that the main stream media won’t give suitable coverage to this event, but realistically this event wasn’t news. There was almost no trouble, the crowd wasn’t massive and there are endless demonstrations in London that also don’t make the news. The only think news worthy from the legacy media’s point of view would be Mr Robinson and other “celebrities” attending but a quiet and reasoned speech being delivered on behalf of someone else isn’t going to interest them that much. That said this was a victory for free speech, a small one but a victory none the less. It was good that so many people turned up to support not Mr Robinson but the principle of free speech – the question though is what next? How can the fight be continued, is this a moment of awakening and the start of action or will we all go back to sleep again until the next time? Will we fight for the right to free speech for everyone, or surrender it to avoid words we don’t want to hear? I hope that we’ll fight and that we’ll win as without the freedom to speak there are no other freedoms and the path of dissent is rapidly reduced to violence.

Great mind bit of a shit

Davros not Stephen Hawking “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” – Voltaire

This is a somewhat tricky post to write, as I have no desire to cause upset to the friends or family of the recently departed. Also one of the problems with critiquing great people is you are open to accusations of jealousy, sour grapes, trying to drag other people down and so forth. However the current sanctification of the late Dr. Hawking within my social circle has been a little grating. Given recent popular movements regarding micro-agressions, believing the victim, #MeToo and so forth I was under the impression that “greatness” was no longer an excuse for treating people badly. As these attitudes are popular amongst much of my social group I thought it worth mentioning that amongst all the hagiographies it might be worth mentioning that he wasn’t necessarily such a great human. Much as we saw with Mr Weinstein, and others, how “everyone knew” and it was “common knowledge” so it was with Dr. Hawking. Way back when I was a lowly Physics undergrad the scuttlebutt at various physics meet up was that his attitudes and behaviour towards women weren’t exactly great. Now of course my saying that is just hearsay and rumour, though I heard it from people who witnessed or experienced it so felt quite comfortable saying that we shouldn’t over look his very human nature. I’m not going to link to anything directly but if your curious you could search on Stephen Hawking misogyny and anti-Semitism.

That is where it got kind of interesting. Suddenly the previously applied standards were suspended, it was to be expected because of the period he grew up in, it was understandable because of his illness, it was forgivable because of his great intellect. The mere suggestion that we could acknowledge his intellect and scientific contributions without ignoring that his past attitudes and behaviour might have been problematic was “vilification” and “turning him into a monster”. On this occasion suddenly there were demands for proof, and not just second-hand reports but on camera instances of his behaviour. So the level of evidence that condemned athletes, actors, some producers, right-wing politicians and other celebrities was no longer sufficient. I’m going to resist the temptation to try to guess why this might be the case, why in this instance we shouldn’t talk honesty about behaviour and call out even the smallest misdemeanour’s. I will ponder that if people are willing to overlook unacceptable behaviour for some people for whatever reason it rather undermines the argument that such behaviour is unacceptable. Of course you can still admire him, you can still think him brilliant or anything else you like, but much as I like my friends whilst acknowledging their flaws we should also acknowledge the flaws of those we look up to and hold them to at least the same standards we apply to those we look down on. I hope that when I die those that know me remember me as I was, big up the tales about me for sure but remember my flaws and don’t excuse them so that those that come after me can do better than I did.

So in memory of Dr Hawking and one of (what I think was) his coolest discoveries I’d like to propose the term “Hawkings Hypocrisy”. A bit like “revealed preference”, Hawkings Hypocrisy is hypocrisy revealed when someone exempts specific individuals from standards they insist on for others.

Registering with the Raw Tobacco Scheme – Revisted

HMRC are watchingLong term readers here may recall that a while back I registered with the HMRC for their raw tobacco scheme as I sometimes grow the stuff for various purposes, mainly wine making, and of course because the regulations are insane. Well as it’s a new year I received a letter asking me to let them know if “Raw Tobacco approval” was still required, which was all quite expected. As the decorative varieties didn’t take that well and the smokable varieties are getting out competed by the cobb nut trees and grape vines I’m not bothering this year, though maybe next year as I’ll want more wine by then. All of which is not terribly interesting what was far more interesting was the net page of the letter, which said:
“HMRC regularly reviews the contents of internet websites and entries on the websites from Giolla were seen with the dates refered below:”

So hello HMRC, pull up a chair and have a cuppa.

They then proceed to detail aspects of the previous article telling of my success with registering with them, noting that the sample letter “Mirrored the details submitted in your application to HMRC dated…”. They then further note:
“A copy of your approval letter that HMRC issued to you was linked to the above entry with your name, address and approval number details greyed out but HMRC details were displayed in full”

Which makes me wonder quite a few things, firstly just what are they looking for as part of their reviews? Secondly how did they identify the letter? This could just be that so few people applied that it was obvious or it could be that in the HMRC details there was a non-obvious identifier. I accept I could have done a better job with blocking out my details, but all the HMRC details looked fairly generic.
Baccy approval - page 1
To get from the greyed out details to something in their records would take a bit of effort, and the rest of the letter looks fairly generic so I wouldn’t have though that traceable. Unless they had very few applicants which is more than possible given how badly they advertised the scheme. I’d love to hear other peoples thought on this one, as it may be relevant for anyone else wanting to share HMRC correspondence. Also is it just me or does their tone seem a bit peeved about the HMRC details not being greyed out? I would have thought HMRC contact details would be public knowledge.

The next paragraph is where it gets even more interesting as it reads:
“Please provide an explanation for the above entries on the Anonymong website, in particular how a copy of the Raw Tobacco approval letter issues by the HMRC to yourself appeared on this website.

Please provide the information requested above by….”

I’ve checked all my previous correspondence and no where does it say that I have to keep the information in the letter confidential, and the relevant approval and such numbers were obscured anyway so that shouldn’t be an issue in any case. When I asked them why they needed the information the very nice lady who wrote to me claimed it was to make sure my data hadn’t been stolen or anything, which I don’t really find very convincing especially given the tone of the letter. So if not that, which I’m really not convinced by, anyone want to suggest why the HMRC would be concerned that a fairly generic letter with identifying details obscured was published? The letter then went on to say that if I didn’t reply then my Raw Tobacco approval would not be renewed and “may affect any future RTAS application”. They then very thoughtfully included a fact sheet about excise compliance checks. I would have thought it would have made more sense to provide that when I first registered if it was just to be helpful, otherwise one might thing it was a hint of a threat. If they were that concerned about my data having been stolen or comprised I would have hoped they might have got in touch sooner rather than waiting for the next time they had to write to me, though perhaps the problem was just in a report attached to my file and no one was looking at it. Though that does rather make the value of their internet surveillance rather questionable, as any harm that could have happened from the registration would have happened by now. I don’t for a moment think they only happened to discover it just before writing to me, if I had a few spare hours looking back through server logs might be illuminating.

All very interesting, HMRC are it seems watching and paying attention – though for just what purposes and how they’re matching what’s on the internet to their systems is a very interesting question. Maybe they just had so few registrations they assume that everyone that registered for non-business purposes was a wrong-un. Anyone else had the HMRC in touch about a blog post?