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Twitter vs the Republican right.

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Although I'm on Twitter, I'm not convinced by it as a social tool - it's not even as good as Facebook status discussions, which is saying something. However, I get it for business, and I get it for campaigns. Tonight's a great example.

As Obama tries to do something about the American pay-or-die health care system, his opponents have attacked him for trying to recreate the evil socialist NHS. 

One of them went far too far and put it about that Stephen Hawking would have died if he lived in Britain. See how many problems you can spot in that one claim.

It's sparked a furious round of twittering (tweeting still sounds twee, sorry) with people posting their defence of the NHS with the hashtag #WeLoveTheNHS

You click that link, read a flurry of anecdotes, jokes and arguments for, and it tells you immediately that there have been something like "300 more results since you started searching". It's currently the third most popular topic on Twitter, and the BBC, the Telegraph and others have noticed too.

There's a backlash, obviously, with the wingnuts going hard for the socialism stuff. And in one sense they're right. The NHS is socialism in action. I've paid taxes over the last year and not been to the doctor once. When I was unemployed I went to the doctors when I needed to and didn't worry about the cost. It's from each according to his ability, to each according to her need.

It doesn't work for lattes or laptop design, neither of which are actually needs, but it's a damn fine model for health care. It's also the best thing Old Labour ever achieved, it's worth protecting, and it's time to roll back the PFI/PPP marketisation forced upon it by both New Labour and every sort of Conservative.

Question, though. If twittering about it hadn't got the mainstream media's attention, how much impact would this have had on the American campaign? Right now, given the way journalists love techo-novelty, I think it'll help. US media will surely cover it, and they'll have plenty of short quotable stories about the merits of living somewhere where you don't have to feel for your wallet before the doctors feel for a pulse. 

Google your CCTV.

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bobbysands.jpgIt strikes me as odd that the Middle Englander type opposed to Google's Street View are often the same people yammering for more CCTV in their areas. To give one tangential illustration, for the Mail, Street View is a 'burglar's charter', yet the paper objects to the removal of CCTV from 'crime-ridden areas' on some supposedly spurious human rights grounds.

Surely it's less oppressive if you know what's there and you can complain if you've been spotted coming out of a sex shop, as with Street View? And at least Google doesn't lecture you if you're spotted drunk

Anyway, as the Home Office has admitted, CCTV doesn't work:

"Assessed on the evidence presented in this report, CCTV cannot be deemed a success. It has cost a lot of money and it has not produced the anticipated benefits." (p.120, this pdf)

Google Street View, on the other hand, does work. It's free, and it allows you to see what your mates' new houses look like, take a virtual walk through places you used to live, or any other sort of sight-seeing.

They'll also blur your face out, even if you died on hunger strike many years ago (above). Come to think of it, perhaps we should consider letting Google do our CCTV. It'd be free too, presumably, and open to all of us, but they'd better not give us any hot air about not filming coppers. In fact, they could probably provide helpful contextual adverts as hover-overs: "Being beaten up on a protest? Click here for a good lawyer."

Internet and real life converge.

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The debate about the demise of capitalism banking crisis now plays out partly online, as one would expect, given the scale of the problems. The $700bn US bailout plan may unravel, and the Wall St Journal claims 'Wall Street' no longer exists (fancy a namechange then?). As Joe Stiglitz put it to the Today programme earlier this week, "they've now found a sucker, the American taxpayer, to take [these debts] off their balance sheet". The Lloyds TSB acquisition of HBOS may now face opposition too, although the scandal is less obvious and the opposition more muted. 

People get bored by the technicalities of banking and finance - I know I do. But these deals have one thing in common: the bankers get let off the hook, and the public loses out. In the first case, the US Government's "bad bank" would use taxpayers' money to pay off Wall Street's gambling debts (as MacWhirter noted), and in the second case Lloyds gets to waive competition law to snap up HBOS.

In the face of all this turmoil, the Americans have at least got their internet-related satire working much more effectively than us. First, in the spirit of the FAILblog, I give you Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke giving evidence on their massive gift to the rich prudent measures to restore confidence in the banking system:

Next, here's some pseudo-spam that's been going round. Thanks to Aaron for the spot.

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Rewarding failure.

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harvieIDcards.jpgThe Independent reports today that the firm which lost personal data for 84,000 convicted criminals is also lined up to work on the ID cards. This scheme is destined to fail or be scrapped, so the £33m they've been paid will be wasted no matter what, but if I had my way every company that ever fails on personal security should be blocked from any future Government IT contracts.

Coincidentally, I got a letter today from my local Liberal candidate claiming that voting for them was "the safest way to ... protect our traditional civil liberties". Odd, then, that they abstained on the issue in 2005 when Patrick had a motion down opposing ID cards.

Each time Americans go round their protracted electoral cycle, it gets a little more internet. It doesn't seem to happen here in the same way - perhaps we're not quite at critical mass yet, or maybe we're slow learners. 

Anyway, the attack ad and YouTube were made for each other. Next to zero cost to make (some dork with a copy of Final Cut), zero cost to distribute (Google pays), and easy to circulate. Also for free.

Here's two very different ones against McCain. They each take a very different tone, but both make me pretty anxious about the fact that he's even still in this race (and tightening - Electoral Vote has it at 289-249 in Obama's favour today).

First, here's a TPM one about what a senile fool he is. Especially about Czechoslovakia. And timetables. Not to mention dirt, and/or Frankenstein. 

Next, the really scary one, thanks to Scribo Ergo Sum. I have seen about half of the clips from this already, but the whole package together shows a terrifying whole. Seriously, if these two are the choices, wouldn't seeing this make everyone more sensible than Strangelove himself back Obama?

Anyway, it's not just the Americans who're doing this, obviously. Here's one more, presumably a TV ad just ripped for YouTube, but it was done by the Jamaican Labour Party, they posted it officially, and it has a YouTube aesthetic about it. Aaron tells me that "don't draw mi tongue" means "don't provoke me into slagging you off", roughly.

Protecting shared secrets.

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Uber-crypto-geek Bruce Schneier has today posted some advice to the next US President on how to get online security right. Some of it could usefully be applied here by the Scottish and UK Governments, even though we've got less leverage and smaller economies of scale. But given some of the recent data loss incidents, Ministers shouldn't rule it out. 

Oh, and if you're geeky enough to appreciate the image to the left (click to enlarge), you can buy it on a t-shirt. No, I'm not on commission.

marsphoenix.jpgThe young Greens seem to have converged on Twitter like bees, but I'm resisting it. As one of them put it to me, it's like Facebook boiled down to status updates. 

No thank you. I don't want to read anyone else's minutiae, nor do I believe mine could possibly be of interest to anyone else. 

Not like a blog..

And that's even though you apparently get election results five minutes before everyone else. And even though Mars Phoenix is twittering actually from Mars. (yes, yes, I know, it's just like Father Christmas actually answering letters)

The truth isn't out there.

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The European Court of Human Rights is now all that stands between Gary McKinnon and extradition to the US. 

His alleged crime? Looking for UFO information on inadequately protected US military servers. He left notes pointing out security holes, but is now being threatened with life in prison.

This is a massive over-reaction, as has been noted elsewhere. For more updates on the campaign, see
mccain.jpgJohn McCain doesn't get on with technology. Anything more recent than the A-4 Skyhawk he got shot down in over Vietnam seems to be a problem.

The latest newfangled technologery to confuse him is the humble teleprompter, a vital part of any Republican campaign's arsenal since Reagan first gave a press conference during a nap.

As for computers, McCain admits to being "an illiterate who has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get". As Frank Rich put it in the New York Times (article, bypass registration here), "Getting shot down over Vietnam may not be a qualification for president in 2008, but surely a rudimentary facility with a laptop is". Quite.

I wonder if he's as IT-incompetent as Tony Blair, who, the story goes, used to leave tippex on the screen when trying to correct typos. Heaven help us if so, and if he gets elected.
pathewitt.jpgThe Register picked up some interesting spam today, in which someone claiming to be Patricia Hewitt claimed to have squirrelled away £6.3m of public money, and that it is now being made available on the usual terms.

This is of course our old pal the "419 scam", albeit a bit closer to home than the usual I AM MRS MARIAM ABACHA.

And of course, transparently absurd. Hewitt would never have done something so criminal.

No, instead she and the New Labour government wasted £1bn, more than 150 times as much money, on management consultants for the NHS. Odd, perhaps, given that she herself worked for Andersen Consulting until New Labour took power.

Countless billions more were put into PFI schemes, often benefiting the same consultants in other ways. Don't get them confused with medical consultants, who actually do something useful.

Another £14.2bn was wasted on an ill-conceived and ill-implemented IT system.

But that's all perfectly legal, so why should we worry about it? Here's one thought, though. We'd all be almost incalculably better off if she'd just nicked £6.3m and given it away through random spam instead.

Postscript: it's perhaps not surprising that she's taken a well-paid second job with BT, who she's helped out in the past.

The diagnosis is in

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handknitiphone.jpgApparently I'm not well, so says the American Journal of Psychiatry (quoted in the P&J). I send what might be regarded as excessive texts and emails. I do feel withdrawal when I can't get online. I do also upgrade to newer computers from time to time.

But wait, isn't this called Living In The Modern World? (image from here)

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