Friday, 19 October 2012

Friday Links

Friday, 21 September 2012

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Friday in TZ+1100 links

And some other links on the Assange case:

Friday, 6 July 2012

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Blogspot and Disqus

Blogspot and Disqus have an incompatibility:

  • Blogger uses per-country domains like for the UK, and for the US (and anywhere not specifically stated). A few other countries are similarly affected.
  • Disqus ties its comment threads to a particular URL. So while you can allow multiple domains to connect to the Disqus account in Settings => Trusted Domains, that ends up with you having a separate unrelated comment thread for every country. Not great if you have any international readers.

For now, people can go to to make the domain stick with country geo-location. This is not great, but it kind-of works at great inconvenience to your readers...

I've found a better fix, which does not appear to be documented elsewhere on the web (and Disqus support didn't mention it when I asked), but it's so obvious from a programming perspective I find it unlikely I'm the first to think of it. On the other hand, it does require a little bit of willingness to dive into the raw template code to implement, so make sure you backup your template first in case it goes wrong.

Code for the fix below the cut...

In the Blogger template with Disqus installed there'll be a section like:

<script type='text/javascript'>
                var disqus_url = '<data:post.url/>';;
                var disqus_title = document.getElementById('disqus_post_title').innerHTML;
                var disqus_message = document.getElementById('disqus_post_message').innerHTML;

(Edit the template, edit the HTML directly, disregard the "are you sure" warning, and expand the widget templates)

After the line starting 'var disqus_url' add:

disqus_url = disqus_url.replace(/refusingthedefault.blogspot.[a-z.]+/,"");

(replacing "refusingthedefault" with your blogspot domain, or it won't do anything useful...)

This will pass the canonical post URL to Disqus, and your comments will be unified. There will probably be a bit of a mess with old comment threads that needs migrating on Disqus.

Add the blogspot country subdomains to your Trusted Domains in Disqus and it should all work (except for the comment counts on the summary page, which will always say zero, but that's bearable)

Friday, 15 June 2012

Come back! We can campaign about trees together!

I've been critical before of political groups and movements whose entire platform basically boils down to "we're not the Conservatives". They avoid setting out principles as much as possible to attract a broad audience - "a united left", or whatever - which works fine right up until they actually try to do anything.

The result is usually a group which is run by and for default people, and often one viewing political power as an end rather than as a means.

I bring this up now because there was [content note: heterosexism, especially in comments] a fine example yesterday of the intellectual knots one can get oneself into when attempting to run a campaigning organisation without reference to any underlying principles1.


The membership's desire to take action in favour2 of non-default people was a clear but not unanimous majority. This was hard to interpret, so we resolved to only take late, ineffective and partial action on the subject.

Despite the considered ineffectuality of our response, approximately 0.1% of the recipients of our call to action found it too much for them, and delivered us a series of insults, or even cancelled their subscriptions. Please tell us what you think. Should we have made our action even weaker, or not done it at all?

We don't want to lose important people over this! Please come back... We can campaign about trees together. We won't do it again...

Another example of why I strongly prefer campaigns which both start from and stick with their principles, then.

Footnotes and rambling digressions

1 Yes, I'm aware they claim to have underlying principles. Under both "defend fairness" and "protect rights" this one should have been fairly obvious (though see next footnote too).

2 There is of course a principled argument that marriage - either in its current form as a concept or in all forms - is itself harmful, and therefore to extend it to more people is to go in completely the wrong direction; instead, heterosexual marriage should be abolished. I very much doubt any of the objections received were along those lines.

Certainly, I would agree that in so far as the state needs to have a means of registering relationships between individuals, the model of "marriage", even opened up so that it does not require particular genders of the participants, is massively insufficient. Relationships between more than two people, relationships which desire some but not all of the legal statuses attached to "marriage", and so on, are not well-served by the current set up. This should not be considered the end of the reform process, though with the exception of those religions which would like to run religious ceremonies for marriages, it probably will be for quite some time.

I can also envisage societies in which the "state" either has no need to register relationships at all, or does not exist in such a form that the concept even makes sense. At least some of these social models would, for me, also be preferable to the current system.

Nevertheless, I think even if the long-term plan is to get rid of the concept of state recognised marriage (and remember that this digression is irrelevant to the main post, where that clearly is not the long-term plan!), the current concept has so many flaws that refusing to fix them in the short term is the wrong approach.

(See also: Andy's Miscellany: Marriage Equality and Primogeniture for a different analysis)

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Friday Links

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Rape culture in government

[Content note: abuse of power, rape]

There was a debate in Parliament yesterday regarding undercover policing, raised by Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion).

One of the issues raised was the practice by police infiltrating a group suspected of criminal activity of forming sexual relationships with the members of that group (so far, the cases which have received publicity have all involved male police officers and female members of the group).

It is of course fairly likely that many of the people with whom the undercover officers formed sexual relationships would not have done so had they known that the other person was an undercover police officer. As Lucas states:

The eight women allege that the men’s actions constitute a breach of articles 3 and 8 of the European convention on human rights. Article 3 asserts that no one shall be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment, and article 8 grants respect for private and family life, including the right to form relationships without unjustified interference by the state. The women go on to allege that the actions amount to common law tortious acts of deceit, misfeasance in public office and assault.

It's not at all clear to me from a reading of the precedent and legislation whether people in a similar situation could also allege rape, as has been suggested (and rightly, because morally it is). It hinges on what "capacity to consent" means in the legislation, and the positive precedents generally have elements which are clearer than in this sort of case1.

In that context, the government's answer is disturbing.

Nick Herbert MP (Conservative, Arundel and South Downs), the relevant Minister, replies - regarding the legality of this under RIPA, an issue which remains untested by the courts and on which a number of conflicting public statements have been made by the police:

What matters is that there is a general structure and system of proper oversight and control, rather than specific directions on behaviour that may or may not be permitted. Moreover, to ban such actions would provide a ready-made test for the targeted criminal group to find out whether an undercover officer was deployed among them. Specifically forbidding the action would put the issue in the public domain and such groups would know that it could be tested.

So it's okay for an undercover police officer to commit actions morally (and possibly legally) constituting rape, if to do otherwise would put their cover at risk, according to the government.

Herbert doesn't explicitly state it one way or the other, but presumably given some of the other cases that Lucas raised, he also considers it legitimate for an undercover police officer to plant a live incendiary device in a public area, if to refuse would put their cover at risk (a blanket ban on committing life-threatening acts of terrorism would obviously make it too easy for terrorist groups to out undercover officers, right?).


1 Generally one of:

  1. The offender viewed the act as sexual but convinced their victim(s) that it wasn't (e.g. fake medical examinations)
  2. The offender had used some sort of threats or pressure
  3. The offender was pretending to be an entirely different person (as opposed to presenting a different identity of the same person). The distinction between the two is not trivial, given how many people have extremely legitimate reasons to have multiple identities for different contexts.

One of the things that makes me angry about this sort of case is that I can't think of a way to word legislation such that (under rape culture: the existing legislation would be more than adequate if we weren't) this would be illegal, but legitimate omissions about one's past or other identities would not be, especially in the context of a government (and much of the populace) which believes that people can legitimately only have one identity.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Government Inequalities Office

The recent newsletter from the Government Equalities Office can basically be summed up as "Well, it's all a bit difficult. Let's not bother". It's the result of their previous "regulation is evil" review.

The measures announced today include:

Repealing Third Party Harassment law, which will ensure employers are no longer liable for the harassment of an employee by a third party (for example, a customer). A consultation on this change is launched today.

The Law Gazette has a summary of the existing law, and the case law it's based on.

Note that it firstly requires this to happen more than once and secondly requires that the employer could reasonably have done something about it but didn't.

The 'Bernard Manning' case (which held that the employer was liable for inviting a racist and sexist comedian to insult their staff, even though the comedian was not a direct employee) is fairly important since third parties include suppliers and contractors.

It's not clear that repealing this part will actually stop employers being liable, as the Equalities Office apparently holds the view that all harassment is direct discrimination, and of course the case law establishing liability predated the law they're going to repeal. Unless they intend to repeal it by adding a statement that employers are explicitly not liable, of course, which is unlikely to stand up in court.


Reviewing the Public Sector Equality Duty - a legal obligation on public bodies to consider the impact of their decisions on different groups - to establish whether it is operating as intended.

Repealing the Socio-Economic Duty - a legal obligation on public bodies to consider the impact of their decisions on social class.

I'd be more worried about the first point if the government had not repeatedly shown that it's completely trivial to ignore it anyway, if you are the government. Repealing the Socio-Economic Duty is hardly surprising either, given how obviously they've been ignoring it so far.


Tackling gold-plating and over-compliance by working with the British Chambers of Commerce to help small-and-medium-sized companies understand what they do and don't need to do in order to comply with the Equality Act.

We must remember that the Act's purpose is to give plausible deniability when people are discriminated against. Some companies have got confused and gone beyond this to attempt to actually stop the discrimination.

Repealing employment tribunals' 'wider recommendations' powers, which will remove the power of tribunals to recommend the introduction of, or changes to, policies that affect all of an employer's staff - not just the employee who brought the case. A consultation on this change is launched today.

We must remember that it is far more effective, and good for the employer, if they have to deal with several separate discrimination cases for the same issue, rather than a tribunal being able to suggest a way to improve general practice after the first one.

The "individual solution to systematic problem" approach of course never fails to keep discriminated-against people from causing too much trouble.

And a bunch to do with the EHRC

Repealing unnecessary powers and duties. Some of the EHRC's powers and duties under the Equality Act 2006 will be scrapped in order to help it focus on its core functions.

Tighter financial controls. The EHRC will comply with government-wide spending rules - in particular, controls on recruitment, consultancy and marketing.

Budget review. The EHRC's budget was cut by over half as part of the 2010 Spending Review. There will now be a comprehensive review of the remainder of the EHRC's budget, to be completed this autumn.

New leadership. A new Chairman and a new, smaller Board will be recruited.

"Having funding, powers, and staff is interfering with the EHRC's duty to pretend everything is fine. We will review this."

They're not necessarily the most useful or sensible organisation, but I doubt these changes will help.

...all in all, about what you'd expect from the Conservative Party.

About four years ago, you couldn't talk about an issue like this without a Lib Dem popping up to say that they were the only major party to have:

Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

in their Constitution. The lack of an entry for "social class" is telling, in light of the above repeals, isn't it.

I haven't seen a Lib Dem mention that for a while now. Whether that's because there are fewer Lib Dems or because they've realised that like a lot of Constitutional statements it's basically meaningless words, I'm not sure.

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday Links

A few reports that Ed
Miliband will be attending the Gala this year
. Now, even saying
he'll attend and then not turning up is closer than any of his
predecessors got, but will he actually make it this year? It's one prediction I'll
be quite happy to be wrong about.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

No-one could possibly have predicted that

Well, no-one could possibly have predicted that: Secondary school pupils 'not eating enough' according to the BBC headline. No, it's not an article about child poverty and malnutrition.

It turns out that...

For example, in 2004 43% of pupils had chips with their lunch compared to just 7% in 2011.

And almost all schools have ditched the sale of chocolate, sweets and crisps.

...if you remove the provision of food which is both tasty and provides lots of energy...

School Food Trust research suggests pupils get a quarter of the recommended daily intake from lunch, rather than the third that is advised.


"Despite huge improvements to what's on the menu, teenagers are still not choosing food combinations that will give them enough energy and nutrients to stay alert all afternoon."

...the people eating that food will be short on energy.


[the research] found significant improvements in the nutritional value of meals offered by secondary schools and healthier choices made by pupils.

It may well be true that the vitamins and other nutrients are
better provided than they were a decade ago. But as regards basic
energy, complaining that students aren't getting enough when there's
been a near-ban on the foods best at providing energy is absurd.

But then, this is a society where some "energy drinks" are actively
marketed as "low calorie"1, so perhaps it shouldn't be all that
surprising that nutritionists are acting baffled at the reduction of
calorie content leading to a reduction in energy.


1 Because the way that calorie content of food is
calculated bears very little resemblance to most human's metabolic
processes2, I can believe that it's very possible to
produce an energy drink which metabolises well but doesn't test high
in calories.

2 Essentially: set fire to the food, see how much energy
this releases, then apply some 19th century adjustment factors to
vaguely account for composition. Modern
skip the "set fire to the food" step and just
calculate based on broad composition approximately how much energy
would be released if one did set fire to it, but the underlying
principle is the same. People with furnace-based instead of
chemically-based digestive systems will probably get reasonably
accurate results from this.