In response to the encroachment of an increasingly surveillance-empowered state, the Open Rights Group has set up the spoof website Statebook. A clever form of protest against a government which has much to hide (except when it gets caught watching porn films paid for by the taxpayer or sending out slanderous e-mails to discredit its detractors), yet wants carte blanche access to its’ citizens’ personal data.
I made my first trip to the legendary city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne (or to give it its preferred modern moniker Newcastle-Gateshead, reflecting both the north and south bank of the river) last week for a conference on records management – and didn’t regret it. My limited knowledge of the north-east of England had been drawn largely from the popular stereotypes as depicted in Viz comic, The Likely Lads and Auf Wiedershen Pet. Much of this depicts a rather grim, violent place, but I discovered a thriving modern city proud of its industrial past, steeped in history and looking forward to the future. The city’s renaissance of the last few years is reflected by the recent developments on the south bank of the Tyne (ie the part known as Gateshead) such as the Sage theatre (which as one conference speaker pointed out resembles a giant silver slug), the former Baltic Flour Mill, now an art gallery and the luxury riverside flats which have sprung up.
And there’ also of course the marvel of post-modern engineering design, the Millennium Bridge, a curved bridge which lights up at night, regularly changing colour. It was only on receiving change at a corner shop which yielded a pound coin, on the reverse side of which was the bridge itself that I finally realised that this image had been in and out of my pocket for all these years.
And one popular stereotype is in fact true – they do go out in t-shirts in freezing cold, wet weather.
The plight of Gary McKinnon who has lost his appeal against extradition from the UK to the US after hacking into top secret US security files is now the subject of a blog to campaign for justice against this ridiculous decision. McKinnon now faces a long sentence in the US, a punishment completely disproportionate to the crime. A ingenious letter highlighting the hypocrisy of the the US securocrats was published in The Independent a few weeks ago. Its writer, PJ Parkins of Lancaster denounces the master-servant relationship between the US and UK and argues that the Americans should be grateful to McKinnon for exposing the flaws in their IT security arrangments, pointing out that if a computer nerd can find out such military secrets, it can’t be that difficult for the Russians and the Chinese.
But this paragraph (with no disrespect to reasonable-minded, rational-thinking Americans) says it all:
“However, intelligence organisations that could not work out why people of Middle Eastern appearance would want to learn how to fly aircraft, but not land them, that thought that allowing Vietnam to become a united country would produce a communist domino effect in south-east Asia, and went to war because of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, are hardly likely to win many marks in an IQ contest. Remember, this is the nation that has vast numbers of people who believe in creationism.”