Trouble in Internet-land & the British Royal wastrels…

7 Months – still sober… still going strong…well done Mobi!

The World Wide Web: Is it unstoppable?

There have been countless instances of governments throughout the world, usually in states which have repressive, undemocratic regimes, which have tried to restrict unfettered access to the internet. Countries such as: Iran, Vietnam, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia , North Korea, Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Maldives, Nepal, Libya and of course China.

Yet I can’t help wondering if these countries are not just the tip of the iceberg. Here, in Thailand, which is supposedly a democratic country and freedom of  expression and access to information and the media is guaranteed under the constitution, we all know that many web sites are blocked by the Thai ‘internet police’. We have all tried to access supposedly ‘innocent’ sites only to see a stark warning on our screens telling us that access to the site has been blocked by the Thai police.

But before we start to accuse Thailand of being particularly draconian, last week even in one of the most  ‘open’ countries on the planet,  the UK High Court of Justice ruled that the internet provider, BT must block access to the pirate website Newzbin2. This ruling could result in all broadband ISPs being forced to block access to any website that is deemed to facilitate “illegal” internet copyright infringement.

Meanwhile, back in communist China, which will soon be the largest economic power on the face of the earth, the authorities have introduced yet more draconian measures in their attempts to restrict and monitor internet access. New regulations require bars, restaurants, hotels and book stores to install costly Web monitoring software which are prompting many businesses to cut internet access and are sending a chill through the capital’s web-grazing literati who have come to expect free Wi-Fi with their lattes and green tea.

 “From the point of view of the common people, this policy is unfair,” said, a cafe owner. “It’s just an effort to control the flow of information.”

It has been suggested that public security officials, unnerved by turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa which was partly  enabled by the Internet, are undaunted in their efforts to increase controls. China already has some of the world’s most far-reaching on-line restrictions. Last year, the government blocked more than a million web sites, many of them pornographic, but also Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Evite. Recent regulations make it difficult for individuals unaffiliated with a company to create personal Web sites.

The Public Security Bureau did not respond to requests for comment, but according to its publicly issued circular, the measure is designed to thwart criminals who use the Internet to “conduct blackmail, traffic goods, gamble, propagate damaging information and spread computer viruses.” Such nefarious activity, the notice says, “not only hurts the interests of the country and the masses, but has also caused some businesses to suffer economic losses.”

One book store owner said she had already disconnected the shop’s free Wi-Fi, and not for monetary reasons. “I refuse to be part of an Orwellian surveillance system that forces my customers to disclose their identity to a government that wants to monitor how they use the Internet,” said the woman, who feared that disclosing her name or that of her shop would bring unwanted attention from the authorities.

Whilst there are many, seemingly justifiable reasons to restrict access or ban certain websites – such as those pandering to  paedophiles, and indeed any sites that  promote and assist with crime – the arbitrary and draconian attempts to control access, is at the very least, a worrying trend.

I can’t help feeling that at the end of the day it will all prove to be a bit of a waste of time. The more the states try to control the internet, the more the world community of geeks in their dusty little rooms will work out ways to circumvent the restrictions. Already such devices proxy servers and VPN’s (virtual private networks) are common place, and a growing number of savvy internet users will find ways to get round the clumsy attempts to block them.

If some spotty little nerd in his three bed semi in a sleepy English suburb can succeed in hacking into the  most sophisticated defence system of the most powerful country on this planet, what chance do low-paid government ‘teckies’ have in thwarting the advance of the internet?

My guess is that most state officials who try desperately to put the internet ‘genie back in the bottle’ have no conception of what it is they are trying to do. They are mostly middle-aged or elderly officials of a bygone generation who grew up before all the modern, technical innovations that have transformed our daily lives became common place.They still believe that their old way of life can go on forever and that they can effectively turn the clock back. A bit like King Canute trying to turn back the waves.

As for that short sighted high court judge in London; he is probably another computer-illiterate Luddite who has never downloaded a single file in his life. Maybe it should be a condition that any judge who sits in cases concerning computer activities should be an experienced practitioner himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the curtailing of movie piracy; I am an author myself and understand the need for creative people to receive recompense for their efforts and not have millions of people effectively steal the results of their labour for nothing.

But using legal weapons to ban downloading sites is not the right way to go about it. Firstly, it will never succeed because as fast as they shut down sites, new sites will spring up and new ways of accessing them will be devised. The use of VPN’s will probably mushroom and everyone will be exchanging movie files with each other in complete privacy.

I well recall back in the 1960’s when the BBC tried to stop people copying pop music onto their music cassettes at home. It was declared illegal, but the whole country was doing it, so detection of the ‘crime’ soon proved impossible. So what did they do? They came to an agreement with the industry whereby bulk copyright fees were paid to the BBC in return for permission to use their music, which included the public copying them at home.

Then, decades later, the music industry seems to have made a much better fist of adapting to the internet age, with the introduction of legal sites such as iTunes and innovative ways for musicians to publish, promote and sell their music.

One of the positive ‘spin-offs’ for the public from the digital revolution has been the growth of live performances by musicians, as this has now become their chief money earner. In the past, they would become incredibly rich by making a best-selling album or two, which was sold to the public at an enormous price, and they rarely felt the need to go out on the road and do what they are supposed to do, play live to their adoring public.

So what about the movie makers? Don’t they deserve to get paid? Of course they do, but trying to shut down internet sites will ultimately be no more effective than the BBC telling the public back in the 60’s that copying music from the radio was illegal. I suspect that I speak for millions when I say that if there were legal downloading sites that made a sensible charge for movie or a  TV product, then I would be more than happy to use that site and pay a monthly fee or whatever basis upon which they wished to charge – provided the cost was within bounds.

But I have no desire to subscribe to dozens of different sites to download the movies and TV programmes that I need. I just want one – or maybe, at a push – two sites to go to. The industry simply has to get together, as the music industry did with iTunes, and give the public what they want – a fast, user friendly, downloading service at a sensible price.

Will the industry be adequately compensated? I see no reason why not, as if you listen to their current protests; they are all losing countless millions – maybe billions – due to piracy, so anything that deals with this problem must be a plus.

Will the industry continue to be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a single movie production and will the movie stars continue to be able to demand 15, 20 or 30 million dollars to appear in a movie? I hope not! These amounts of money are totally obscene and the movie industry is insane to pay this level of fees for their stars to appear in what is generally turns out to be mediocre, hyped up rubbish.

We have seen time and  time again that it doesn’t take untold millions, in both production costs and movie star salaries, to make a good, successful movies, and if the advent of movie piracy plays any part in curtailing the financial excesses of Hollywood, then it can be no bad thing. At a time when the world’s economies are forever teetering on the brink, there is no place for crazy, uncontrolled, profligate spending in Hollywood, which after all, is itself located in an American State that is rapidly going broke.

And to the governments of the world; I say, get real, stop the bullshit internet police and get with it and get connected…..

Our beloved British Royals

I see there was yet another bullshit royal wedding over the weekend. 

Although I am a firm opponent of the royals and all their ostentatious trappings, I do concede that there was some justification in celebrating the marriage of our future King and Queen, and for those who read my blog at the time, you will know, that while deploring it I, like countless millions, enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. After all, if they are going to spend all that money, you might as well enjoy it.

For the sake of clarity, I will state that I am not a republican, as I see no point, after all these hundreds of years, in changing the way we appoint our ceremonial head of State – for that is all it is – a purely ceremonial position. The UK is run by the two houses of parliament and that is the way it should be. The monarch is simply there to act as a ‘point of reference and stability’ to sign all enacted laws into being and to preside over state occasions, as necessary and as befits our place in the world.

In an ideal world, there should be a more democratic method of appointing our Head of State, but I recognise that any attempts to change this will simply result in endless acrimony and a failure to agree on a way forward.

Look at the countless attempts to modernise the House of Lords to make it more democratic and more representative. Most politicians, from every political spectrum, accept the need for reform, but it has proven nigh on impossible to get a consensus on the right way forward. Imagine how much more problematic it would be if we tried to abolish the monarchy?

So given that we are lumbered with a King or Queen for the foreseeable future, I firmly believe that the whole bloody ‘family firm’ should be severely ‘downsized’ and all, save the ‘key’ central players, should be ditched and put out into the wide world to fend for themselves.

The king and/or Queen, his or her spouse and their children, until they come of age, (save the heir to the throne), are the only royals that the State should be responsible for. And even then, they should have a single, more modest place of residence – maybe a nice, large house in a pleasant leafy suburb – and all the royal palaces and castles should be turned over to the state to use as the state sees fit, ideally for profit.

We could get rid of all the servants and 99% of the royal trappings and all the myriad royal ‘hangers on’ who do nothing for the country, except provide salacious gossip for the readers of tabloid newspapers.

As for the hysterical nonsense of the weekend, when the bloody marriage of Lady Zara Phillips with a ‘washed-out’, bald headed rugby player became the ‘talk of the town’; well, the sooner these kind of public events become a thing of the past, the better. It is crass elitism and a total anachronism in 21st century Britain.

One of the biggest waste of spaces in our beloved Royal family is the eminent second son of our current monarch, that wonderful, handsome, dedicated prince, the estimable Prince Andrew… known to his mates far and wide, as Randy Andy.

To me, the high point of this otherwise, arrogant, ignorant, lazy and dissolute member of the Royal firm, was when he worked as a helicopter pilot during the Falklands war. That took a certain degree of bravery, and I take my hat off to him for that. But what has he done since, apart from bringing the most outrageous spouse into royal circles since Charles 2nd had it off with Nell Gwyn?

Not a lot, I’m afraid.

Sorry, I forgot; over the past decade or so, he has been Britain’s ‘Special Trade Ambassador’. He was – that is – until recently, when he was obliged to relinquish this post after the intense controversy over his links to an American sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein; an American billionaire who pleaded guilty to solicitation of prostitution and a single charge of procuring minors for prostitution in 2008 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

He has also faced questions over his friendships with billionaires and politicians in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Libya and Turkmenistan. And his position came under added pressure when leaked US State Department cables revealed that he had lashed out at British journalists and law enforcement agencies while on overseas trips.

Added to all this were recent revelations that his ex-wife, the incredibly asinine ‘fat Fergie’, had admitted that Andy had arranged for Jeffrey Epstein (the convicted paedophile) to pay off her debts, confirming that her ex-husband had handled the negotiations.

Andrew’s role as a trade ambassador has cost the taxpayer nearly £15m in travel expenses and police protection.

Official figures show that over the past decade, Randy Andy has spent £4m to fund his work as a special representative for trade and investment. Royal protection officers provided by the Metropolitan police are estimated to have cost a further £10m over the same period.

During his role as Trade Ambassador, Andy travelled with a retinue of five officials, flying first class on chartered planes and staying in five-star hotels. Police usually travelled out in advance to assess the security ahead of visits, and he was accompanied by two bodyguards.

The cost of his  travel and  hotel accommodation was borne by the taxpayer. When he stayed at an expensive hotel, royal protection officers had to stay there as well. The high cost of funding Randy Andy’s role as trade ambassador became apparent amid growing concerns that he was blurring the line between his official trips abroad and his personal business.

The Daily Telegraph revealed that Randy Andy used an official trip to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in 2004 to try to find a buyer for his house in Berkshire. He failed to find a buyer in the Gulf, but in 2007, a Kazakh billionaire, paid £15million for the house, which had been Andy’s marital home before his divorce from Fat Fergie.

The billionaire, who regarded Randy Andy as a personal friend, has never explained why he decided to pay £3million more than the asking price for a house that had no other offers and which has since been left uninhabited and in an increasing state of disrepair.

An ex-chief of the Royal Protection squad commented recently: “He needs protecting from himself. As a trade representative, what on earth is he doing mixing with these people? He is a member of the royal family and as such has a responsibility. Nobody seems to be holding him to account.”

Randy Andy receives £249,000 in a parliamentary annuity that is reimbursed from the Queen’s private funds, has previously described the cost of funding his role as “cheap at the price”. Last year he spent £620,000 as a trade envoy, including £154,000 on hotels, food and hospitality and £465,000 on travel.

In just three days, Andy and four staff spent £19,200 on meals, accommodation and entertaining dignitaries at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He also ran up a £33,800 bill on an 11-day trip to the Middle East and Egypt plus a further £31,000 over nine days in Singapore, Thailand (!!!) and Vietnam.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the business consultants, commissioned by Andy, is understood to have urged him to cut his costs. I wonder how much it cost him to have the largest consulting firm in the world tell him what he and world already knew? The results have never been made public; I wonder why?

There must be literally hundreds of  royal hangers on in this city – this has been the story of just one of them….

BUTT…BUTT…BUTT…. I don’t give a hoot…..