Google to phase out IE6 support – first shots in their war for browser dominance?

ielogoI really dislike IE6.  I hate having to support it for some of my clients, and really wish they could work out how to convince their customers to upgrade.  But, my clients are real world guys; they deal with nuts and bolts, ironmongery, bank accounts, etc.  Their customers tend to be real world people as well – and by real world I mean not software, not media, not technology companies.

I have a client whose website gets 30% of it’s hits from people running IE6.  That’s right.  30%.  That’s three times higher than the average accoridng to these statistics here – – where in December 2009 about 10% of browsers are still IE6.  From my own experiences, these tend to be large corporate sites where machines are ‘locked down’ or smaller non-technical companies who don’t care what browsers their PCs run as long as they can access everything they need to do.

Anyway…Google have finally announced that some features of Google Docs and other applications will soon stop working with IE6.  Actually, for once we have a technology company that has delivered ahead of the announcement.  Some Google products already fail big time with IE6..and 7…and IE8.  Google Wave is a non-starter with IE at all.  It isn’t just ‘some features’ or a ‘reduced user experience’.  In my experience it’s a big fat ‘no user experience’ at all.

Here’s what I expect Google to do over the next few months.  After IE6, the pressure will be placed on IE7 and IE8.  Google will probably suggest that people move to the Chrome plugin for using their sites in IE, and then I’d expect a mysterious problem to emerge with using the plugin in IE, so that more pressure is placed on IE users of Google sites to drop IE for Chrome (or at this time another browser).  Of course, not all IE users will be bothered about not having access to Google applications; but Google’s applications are rapidly becoming the main game in town for online apps – a very unhealthy situation.  Microsoft were hag-ridden for years by various regulatory authorities about their efforts to command the desk top by all means available to them.  Google appear to be starting to do exactly the same thing.

Of course, there are other browsers that are more standards compliant than IE is, was or is ever likely to be.  And this is the core of Google’s current argument – that IE’s non-standard handling of certain elements of the HTML, CSS and JavaScript standards makes it impossible to properly support IE.  Google’s products make extensive use of a protocol called AJAX to provide a desktop style user interface experience; it’s strange that other companies producing AJAX style interfaces are able to make them run happily with IE (albeit with a few tweaks occasionally required to layout).  My conclusions at this stage would be that either Google hasn’t got the brainiest guys on the block as far as coding is concerned, and/or that they’re using their market muscle to start dictating their way to a situation in which they own the web ‘desktop’.

After IE, what next? Firefox, Opera and Safari aficionados should be reminded of John Donne’s famous quote at this point:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

All Google need to do is start defining their own standards, or push implementation of emerging standards in their products so that only their own browser, Chrome, will be ready to cope.  Look at any areas of weakness in other browsers, and code your application to include code that would deliberately break when used on that ‘target’ browser.  No browser is 100% compliant; Google need to force each browser manufacturer in to a cycle of fail and fix, whilst each time Chrome is available from Zero Day to work perfectly on Google’s applications.

Microsoft have been bad lads in the past; there’s no reason for Google to start angling for the same accolades.  However, if they do, I’ll be interested to see whether the folks who’ve rightly been hard on MS will be equally hard on Google.  And if not, why not?

Innovative is not the same as useful

heathrobinsonI recently found this on my Twitterfeed: @jakebrewer: Yes! Note from newly devised Hippocratic oath for Gov 2.0 apps: “Don’t confuse novelty with usefulness.”  It is so true – and that comes from someone who spent part of his MBA working on the management of creativity and innovation.  There is a science fiction story by Arthur C Clarke in which two planetary empires are fighting a war.  The story’s called ‘Superiority’ for anyone who wants to read it.  In this tale, one side decides to win the war by making of use of it’s technological know-how, which is in advance of the opposing side.  Unfortunately, each innovation has some unforeseen side effect which eventually, cumulatively, ends up with the technologically advanced empire innovating itself in to defeat.

First of all, a definition.  For the purposes of this post, innovation is not the small improvements we all do to streamline and ‘finesse’ a process or product.  That’s just maintenance and responding to feedback.  Innovation is the equivalent of trading in the bike for a car.  It’s a big shift.

Innovation is an important aspect of our personal and business lives; through it we have a vital tool for adaptation and survival, but it’s important to not get hooked on the idea that innovation is always a Good Thing, and fetishise it as being an all powerful tool for all problems.  In fact:

  1. Innovation is not always useful.
  2. Innovation is not always indicative of progress.
  3. Innovation does not always benefit all the stakeholders.
  4. Failure to innovate can be expensive and risky; innovating for no reason can also be expensive and risky.
  5. Innovating is not the same as being effective.
  6. Innovation can deliver false confidence.


Innovation is not always useful

This usually equates to ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.  If you have part of your life or business process that is chugging along well and is meeting the targets you set for it, then don’t bother innovating it yet.  There is no purpose or use to massive change that meets no need.  Such innovation is useless.

Innovation is not always indicative of progress

‘Progress’ is one of those words that falls in to the category of ‘hard to define but we all know what it is’.   You may think that you have to innovate to stay cutting edge; but do you?  Sure, we have to be aware of where our market is going, and risks to our future revenue streams.  But innovating to stay on the bleeding edge of technical and social change is likely to expose you to risk.  Progress for your business or life does not always reflect social or technological ‘progress’.  Innovating purely to keep up with trends is ‘running the Red Queen’s Race’ – you will never finish.

Innovation does not always benefit all stakeholders

Innovation may be great for you, but not great for people whose incomes are affected, whose role is removed and whose job in the organisation is no longer needed.  When you innovate, bear this in mind and don’t automatically expect everyone to be pleased they belong to an innovative organisation.

Failure to innovate can be expensive…as can innovating!

Innovation always costs time and perhaps money, especially if done properly.  There is no such thing as free innovation, even if the cost is in terms of the time taken to make sure your innovation won’t break what’s already happening.  It’s easier to keep existing customers than to create new ones.  An innovative approach may scare existing customers away, and not get new replacements.  Be prepared. 

Innovating is not the same as being effective

I see a lot of people in software engineering spending inordinate amounts of time on new processes, new languages and techniques who don’t seem to always be hitting the market with product.  Don’t mistake skilling up with the latest languages and software design techniques as being effective.  It’s only effective if you put the techniques to use.  I have several clients who make a good living, thank you very much, on maintaining and providing applications that are based on 10 year old technology.

Innovation can deliver false confidence

The German Enigma code machine in World War 2 was a highly advanced and innovative piece of kit for the time.  If used correctly it would have been unbreakable.  However, the operators tended to use slightly dodgy procedures in operating it and that gave the British code-breakers at Bletchley Park an ‘in’ to the machine that they were able to exploit and hence read German secret messages.  Even when the Germans did suspect that someone had broken ‘Enigma’ they were so confident in their technologically advanced machine that they thought it impossible.

Enough said.

I’m not saying don’t innovate; that would be ridiculous.  Just think about your innovations and don’t automatically follow the ‘innovate or die’ mantra.  Take time out and read ‘Superiority’ and learn from it.

Is this a valid test of Social Media Newsgathering?

journalistA few days ago I came across this news story, in which a group of French journalists are to be holed up in a farmhouse somewhere with no access to normal news media but with access to Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, etc.  The idea is to see whether news can be effectively and accurately reported via Social media.

It’s an interesting idea, but, just like Celebrity Big Brother, one has to ask Is there a point?’  To start with, as has been pointed out by some commentators, by announcing it in this way it’s quite possible that people will try and game the system and attempt to get some totally ludicrous story in to the news programme that these reporters will be creating in their isolated time.  And there’s the lack of ability to follow up alternate sources who aren’t on Twitter, no way of getting a gut feel from the rest of the media, etc.  In the last week there was a particularly persistent rumour on Twitter that Johnny Depp had died, which indicated the ‘life of it’s own’ aspect that many rumours have, only this time it was spread incredibly quickly and virally across Twitter, hence reaching, in the words of the beer adverts, parts other rumours in the past could not reach.  I have a gut feel that the items that interest the vast majority of people on Social Networks are unlikely to be the content of conventional ‘serious news’ outlets.  More National Enquirer than National Interest, more Geek than GATT.  I can see some areas of overlap – the major big stories like Haiti, for example.

On the other hand, if by chance the news reported by these reporters reflects to a greater or lesser degree the output of the conventional media, then it has an awful lot to say about the efficacy of the ‘citizen journalist’ in pumping out on to social media outlets news that is editorially similar to that which is reported by the mainstream. 

A further possibility is that ‘hard’ news stories that don’t get conventionally reported but that do appear on social networks and web sites such as Indymedia might be picked up and run with.  To me, this is the most interesting outcome of all, and if the reporters and their parent stations play the game with a straight bat it could give us all an intriguing insight in to the editorial policies of conventional media and how this form of newsgathering of crowdsourced stories might start showing more sides of conventional news stories than typically gets reported.

One thing that does concern me about this sort of approach, apart from validation and verification, is analysis.  Everything is a scoop; the fast nature of Social Media means that the time taken to interpret and analyse what’s happening is time in which any number of other stories will zoom by.  This is a pattern we’ve already seen in 24 hour rolling news; everything is reported quickly; the facts (or rumours) are reported with no sense of context.  It’s like trying to get a picture of the strategic and political importance of a military engagement from  a soldier who spent the whole battle in a foxhole pinned down by enemy fire.  It’s a valid viewpoint in one way, but is not a method of reporting that produces truly informed citizens.

Sheffield Sevenstones – Public funding for private gain?

What a surprise – Sheffield City Council and Yorkshire Forward are planning to  chip in £20 millions towards helping kick start the stalled £600 million ‘Sevenstone’ retail quarter in Sheffield City Centre.  Don’t get me wrong – this area of the city centre could do with some redevelopment.  Whether this project is right and whether it was timely is another matter and not one for discussion here, but throwing public funds in to the development at this time is in my opinion not a good move.

The developer, Hammersons, claim they can’t support it at this time.  Now, I acknowledge that it’s been a hard time for property developers (mind you, the good times were brilliant for you guys, so don’t bitch and whine too much) but gentlemen, planning ahead and possibly losing money is all part of the game of free-market capitalism.  Whether the improvement to Sheffield really needed a £600 million project that would further draw shoppers away from the existing suburban shopping areas like Ecclesall Road, etc. is another question.  After all, Meadowhall showed the impact of an out of town shopping centre on city centre shops, so I guess this development will have the same effect on shopping areas outside the city centre, but what ho.

Hammersons develop these places to make money from.  Look at their portfolio – some massive developments – places like Brent Cross, the Birmingham Bullring, prestige developments in Europe.  All impacted by the recession, but that’s the game. 

It appears that the developers of Sevenstones have concluded that a £20 millions input from public funds will kick start the compulsory purchase process that will in turn (somehow) facilitate further development.  Hold on, if the £20 millions for CP can’t be found without going to the public purse, where the Devil is the remaining £580 million going to come from?  I’m not a financial whizz kid, and would truly welcome someone coming to me and saying ‘This is why, it’s OK, there’s a logical reason…’

So…first of all, any property developers reading this….please tell me how this works.

Now, here’s where I put my tinfoil hat on and enter conspiracy theory territory.  At the moment, that part of Sheffield is half demolished, half still (barely) operational.  But as it stands it’s possible that the Council and property developers could, for example, put a much smaller amount of money in to the area and build a much less grand and less joined up development but that would be affordable in the current financial situation and re-activate retail activity in that area.  This might well have to happen in 6 months time when existing CP orders run out and issues about land acquisition for the project can potentially become major stumbling blocks.   Now…if the CP orders are all followed through and the land acquired, and existing properties demolished, it becomes much easier for the Council to turn around in a year’s time and say ‘Ooopps…we need MORE money, but we must rebuild this area, so…..’

Hammersons have put £60 millions in so far.  The Council will be borrowing £10 millions of the £20 millions required to carry the project on. 

Sheffield has some thriving out of town shopping areas despite the best efforts of current and previous Council administrations.  I am proud to be associated with Hillsborough, and often visit places like Darnall on business.  A fraction of the money being spent here could make a massive difference to local, community-based retail and other economic activity in this city.  The shops that will be in the new development are not going to be small stores with local connections; they will be the usual suspects in terms of High Street homogenisation.

The public sector is once more bailing out large private sector concerns because ‘not to do so would be disatrous’.  Sounds familiar?  Think banks.  Same argument, and I think we all know that the beneficiaries are unlikely to be the people of this city.

iPad – third way or solution looking for a problem?

jobsandipadWell, I guess that as someone with technical credentials I should comment on the unveiling of Apple’s new tablet machine, the iPad.  The first thing I will say is that I’m not an Apple fanboi, and so am probably a hard audience to impress.  Anyway, here’s what Apple have to say – I like that price tag, although I expect the usual dollar / pound sterling equivalence will work giving a price range of £500 for the lowest memory / WiFi option through to about £850 for the 3G / 64Gb unit.    But, I have to say, that at first glance it looks beautiful.  Take a look at this from the engadget site (the start of the presentation is at the end of the page, ad the images run in chronological order up the page).

At half an inch thick and about 9.5″ by 7.5″ it has a slightly odd page aspect ratio – it basically looks like an iPod Touch or an iPhone for giants. 🙂  It will run existing apps from the Apple App store, and will also talk to iTunes to get media.  There is a 30 pin connector to charge through and connect to other devices – including PCs.  The unit comes with up to 64Gb memory, has a 1GHz bespoke processor from Apple, called A4,  WiFi as standard an 3G as an extra, touch keyboard a-la-iPhone, GPS, accelerometer for motion sensitive UI, etc.  Ah, what the heck – here’s the technical specs.  No point in regurgitating what’s elsewhere!!  Like I said, think about a wider, longer iPhone.

It looks good – the processor looks pretty capable, and if one were to appear in my birthday bag or Christmas stocking I wouldn’t say no. 

I have to admit that I’m old enough to remember Apple’s first pass at pad computing donkey’s years ago – the Apple Newton.  It was a concept ahead of it’s time.  This machine looks like it really hits the spot on so many levels, but I’m always a believer in ‘Never buy Version 1.0 of anything’, and I do have a few reservations in terms of both business and technology. 

No SD Slot– I appreciate that this seems a small thing when you’re looking at something that can handle 64Gb, but it seems to be a problem with Apple gear that they always ship it with less memory than you want.  I can see lots of applications where media could be distributed on an SD card for plugging in to a gadget like this.

Battery life / replacement– not the life time of the battery in normal use – that 10hrs is pretty cool – but the problems about replacing the unit when it fails.  Are we looking at a similar situation to that experienced with iPods, or have Apple learnt?

Software Development– The Software Development Kit that is available is still unsurprisingly Mac centric – based as it is on the iPhone / iPod SDK and looks at first glance to be more of a conversion kit for existing iPhone / iPod apps than a new development environment.  It’s not available for any other platform than Mac, and Apple also charge for the privilege of belonging to the developer programme.  All in all, seems a little short sighted in terms of application development.  Whilst there are thousands upon thousands of available applications, the question is just how many are genuinely useful on a platform closer to a Netbook than a pocket phone.

Lack of ‘open’ connectivity– I would have liked to have seen a bog standard micro-USB port rather than just the Apple Docking port.

 Having said all that – it’s a nice piece of kit and one step closer to Star Trek.  I could see myself buying one and using it as ‘player / reader’ for media, rather than as a portable work tool.  I could imagine it being given out at high-end conferences packed with stuff for delegates.  I could imagine it as a brilliant teaching tool.  I can see lots of uses, but whether it succeeds or not must surely depend upon bringing the price point down, opening it up a little and finding the killer application.

It has the potential to be a ‘third way’ between phone and Netbook, or a solution looking for a problem.  And I’m not yet 100% convinced which way it will go.  Ask me when we finally see the UK pricing.

ACTA – Why is the Government not informing MPs about this Agreement?

TopSecretHave you heard of ACTA?  How about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement?  No?  Well, you’re probably not alone.  After all, here in the UK the Government won’t even put documents regarding the Agreement in to the House of Commons Library.   Of course, our New Labour defenders of freedom have lots of reasons for not doing this, most of them playing the ‘National Interest’ card, but one has to wonder whether that’s all there is to it.

To give you a little background, take a look at this brief outline of the provisions and process of ACTA.  Like most things that trans-national bodies come up with, they sound bland and almost useful to start with but the Devil is, as always, buried in the details.  And not buried deeply here.  The Horns and the tip of Old Nick’s tail are definitely visible!  Nominally, ACTA was put together to prevent counterfeiting and piracy of branded goods; immediately you can see that it’s beneficiaries are likely to be big corporations.  Whilst you might immediately think of dodgy Guffi handbags on the flea-market, or pirated DVDs, it also extends to less obvious things like machine parts, electronic components, drugs, etc.  In fact any copyrighted goods.  So far, sort of so good – but it also throws in sections dealing with piracy across the Internet and other aspects related to what might loosely be described as ‘means of piracy’, which is where the fun starts.

This BBC item from last yearindicates some of the concerns.  Some of the aggressive policies put forward last year against Internet pirates (or suspected pirates) here in the UK were almost certainly a product of ACTA, and the current Deep Packet Inspection trial by Virgin (whilst hitting a few legal issues) would no doubt warm the cockles of ACTA’s stony heart.  ACTA will allow for a great deal more intrusive observation by ISPs, Governmental bodies and other interested parties of our Internet traffic, will support fairly swinging penalties and because it’s a very broad-based, international agreement will have the stench of globalisation about it.  And it’s not just your Internet connection that’s of interest.  If you take your computer across international borders – in principle, ANY form of digital storage – then ACTA would permit it to be searched.  And this might easily include the SD cards in your camera, your Blackberry, your iPod.

Concerned yet?  Lots of fuss has been made about the ‘three strikes and you’re off the Net’ laws being developed in a number of countries that are likely to be signatory to ACTA when it’s finally agreed and ratified.  But that’s just the end of the process.  ACTA is the issue of concern as it legalises nothing more than wholesale invasion of privacy by private companies in to our personal lives.

It’s not just the UK Government keeping this business sub-rosa.  Here’s a Canadian take.  Fortunately, some British MPs (bless ’em) are attempting to get an Early Day motion in place to raise the issue

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised; ACTA will benefit global business first and foremost – the acolytes of massive globalisation will love it.  And such agreements are often used to bring in laws that individual Governments would probably lose power over if they tried to do it themselves.  National sovereignty and local governance once more yields to the faceless centre.

Perhaps it’s time to act up on ACTA?

Facebook friends limited to 150 by the brain?

facebookAs anyone who’s ever heard me rant about the ‘numbers game’ side of networking – especially on sites such as Ecademy, Linked in or Facebook – will testify, I’m a great believer in quality rather than quantity, and until the software on such sites can do more for me than it currently does in terms of augmenting my memory and the cognitive abilities I apply when trying to remember ‘Is Fred interested in Mousterian Variability or is that Jill?’ then I use these sites to more conveniently keep in touch with roughly the same number of people I would via non computer based means.

So I was pleased today to read this item, suggesting that the brain has a top limit on how many people we can keep track of.   It’s called Dunbar’s Number and is suggested by anthropologist Robin Dunbar to be about 150.  It shouldn’t be surprising; it’s been realised for years that there are optimum sizes for small teams of between 6 and 10 people, which fits with the old military idea of the ‘Brotherhood of the table’ – the ideal size of a small, self contained, fighting unit being a section of about a dozen men.  In such small teams personal loyalties develop and the team bonds quickly.  Larger groupings are employed in companies, but few large companies now look to any ‘business unit’ as having more than a couple of hundred people in them, as management becomes impersonal and the whole unit becomes less effective.

I’ve held for many years, even before the advent of Internet social networking sites, that the quantity over quality brand of personal networking is more to do with train spotting, stamp-collecting or the MI5 Registry than it is to do with maintaining close and friendly business or social relationships.  The numbers approach reduces everything to the level of transactions -‘What can ‘x’ do for me today?’, or ‘I need to know ‘z’, who can help me?’  Whilst this is indeed part of social relationships, the more is beautiful version of social networking makes it all there is to having a network, which is painfully sad.

The natural extension to this approach is what we’re seeing now; many ‘numbers based’ networking sites end up as platforms for the exchange of low-value ‘opportunities’ between people, which are rarely of value to the recipient.  Spam may be too harsh a word, but what else can you call it?  If you have a network of 2,000 people, then you’re much more likely to feel OK about ‘cold calling’ them all than you would if you had a more tightly defined network of respected confidantes, friends and valuable professional associates.  Same on Twitter – it’s easy to spam 20,000 people with marketing messages in 140 characters because you simply cannot know them all.  You’re working as a publisher.  there’s nothing wrong with that but don’t fool yourself in to believing that your relationships with those 2,000 or 20,000 people are anything other than, in most cases, opportunities for you to push your message to them.

Of course, true relationships do develop from these large numbers of what I call ‘transactional friends’, but they enter in to the 150.  The vast majority of these thousands of friends and followers seem, therefore, to be just stamps in a collector’s album.

I for one don’t want to be a collector!

Burying the bad news – it’s what Terror Alert Statuses are for!

I appreciate that I may be being overly cynical here, and will certainly feel a total idiot if the recent escalation of the UK’s Terror Alert Status actually was based in one of the threats reported here.  But that’s part of the problem – unless the threat is carried through or arrests are made we will never know.  We’ll hang around for 30 or 40 (or 70, based on a recent ruling) years until the Government determines that secret documents can be released and then we might find out.  Unless, of course, the file’s pruned in the meantime.

The whole thing is like the story of the man who walks in to a pub and offers to sell anyone there some of his patented elephant repellent.  When someone points out that there are no elephants in the town, our hero simply replies ‘Just shows how good it is, doesn’t it?’  And that’s the way it is with terrorism warnings and terror intelligence in general.  If an arrest is made, great.  If no arrest is made, the intelligence services can claim that continued awareness has saved the say yet again – without telling us precisely how.  And, God forbid, should a terrorist attack be committed then it’s due to the fact that the intelligence services were not able to use all their resources adequately because of civil liberties issues, so can we have some tighter rules please.

It’s a great tool.  Don’t get me wrong – I believe that we need a strong counter-terrorism and counter-espionage capability in the UK, along with a strong military to adequately defend this country.  But I also believe in these institutions being under control and open to inspection and examination.  The last decade of Bush in the White House and New labour in Downing Street has made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the typical UK citizen to trust Government.  It’s no longer enough for our Government to say ‘We know best’ with regard to what information is released or not released.  When trust has been lost, it needs to be regained and one way in which this could be done is for the Government to tell us more of the reason as to why the terrorist alert level increases and decreases.

I’m not suggesting operational information is released; just a general warning – ‘An attack related to an airport is expected’, ‘Hijackings are being planned and may occur at any time’, etc.  No doubt the authorities would suggest many reasons why this can’t be done:

  • Pushing the terrorists in to launching an attack early – well, as soon as the announcement that the terror alert has increased goes out, it would surely provoke the terrorists as well.
  • Scaring terrorists off – and this is a bad thing?
  • Disrupting investigations – the idea of counter-terrorism is to disrupt terror attacks and catch or kill terrorists.  If an investigation is under way and those under investigation suddenly start running around like scalded cats, then again it must indicate that the attack has been disrupted.

I genuinely cannot see how telling us more could hurt matters; it would begin to rebuild lost trust and realistically terrorism will never be defeated unless state and citizen trust each other.  Reducing the Fear, uncertainty and Doubt associated with the current method of attempting to alert UK citizens about terror attacks must be a good thing….unless…..

Well…unless the FUD is a necessary requirement that can be used to distract us from ongoing issues in our country’s governance?  It could be coincidence that we are now sitting at ‘Severe’ when the following are issues in the news:

  • Blair will be questioned at the Chilcot Inquiry this week.
  • Information from the Inquiry suggests that legal advice was given to the Government that the war in Iraq was illegal.
  • Papers to do with the death of Dr David Kelly  to be kept secret for 70 years.
  • Gordon Brown will be questioned at the Inquiry before the UK Election.
  • The Foreign Office is being forced to deny that some anti-terrorism projects are being cut.

Perhaps a ‘Severe’ anti-terror warning is just what the Government needs to try and distract us right now….

Moral relativism and evil

moralityFirst of all, for anyone unaware of the news stories about the two pre-teen thugs from Edlington who tortured and abused two little boys, here’s a link to the story.  Now, I passed a comment online that I regarded the two perpetrators as evil.  I didn’t state they should be hung, drawn and quartered, thrown to wild animals, etc.  Just that they were evil.

Now, the definition of evil from a dictionary I have nearby is “morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved; resulting from or based on conduct regarded as immoral”.  I think that the behaviour of the thugs could be described as evil under that definition.  And I’m sorry, I may come over as a roaring thunder-lizard of reactionary, non-politically correct thought but I’m afraid that someone who does evil things is, until they reform, evil.  And there appears to be no indication that these boys have shown any regret, repentance or even any sort of apology for what they did.  From past evidence, it would appear that the only emotion they have felt is the dismay at being caught.

I was quite surprised (whether I should have been or not) when someone came back and questioned whether it was right to call them evil, and other suggestions were made about whether the boys themselves were victims of their upbringing and background.  I have to say that the upbringing of these individuals is shocking depressing, but the one thing that separates human beings from animals is that between stimulus and response we have the capacity for choice.  And it is in that moment of choice – that instant where civilised behaviour, conscience and sense of right and wrong operates – that the determination to be evil is made.

The fact that some folks believe that whether a behaviour can be evil or not based purely on circumstances I find to be rather disturbing.   The idea that different moral truths hold for different people is called Moral Relativism, I don’t have any time at all for it.  Not too long ago I posted on here about the dangers of peering in to the Abyss.  These boys seem to be the products of such an activity, aided and abetted by our own culture.  Whatever the cause, I don’t honestly see how anyone can look at their behaviour and say it is anything other than evil, and a moral relativist approach to these matters helps no one except the perpetrators and apologists for them.  I’d go further; it actually promotes repeat behaviour; by failing to come down firmly about an issue and say that ‘that behaviour is wrong’ or ‘that behaviour is evil’  we provide a moral and ethical grey area. 

I don’t believe we should be ashamed to state that something is evil.  As CS Lewis pointed out in his work of Christian apologetics ‘Mere Christianity’,  the vast majority of human beings seem to have a built in feel for what’s right and wrong, what’s good and evil.   As a Christian I try not to judge; I’m far from perfect, after all, but I do believe that there is a ‘line in the sand’ which we can draw in absolute moral terms, and it’s the edge of the abyss I wrote about above.  Moral Relativism takes away the sharp drop, building steps for us all to walk down in to the abyss.  And for that reason it should be shunned.

Why this US Supreme Court Ruling affects ALL of us.

us-dollar-sign-flagSometimes the stuff that changes the world starts quietly.  On September 9th, 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, was assassinated in a suicide bombing.  A few months previously he’d warned the West that a major terrorist atrocity was on it’s way, and it was thought that the assassination by supporters of the relatively unknown Osama Bin Laden might be payback.  Two days later, after the attacks on the US, it began to look like the assassination was part of the same plot, designed to remove a major opponent of the Taliban regime. 

The world hasn’t been the same since.  Billions of dollars spent and lost in destruction, millions of lives lost or damaged.

On 21st January, 2010, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favour of allowing unlimited Corporate and Union Campaign contributions in campaigns for President and Congress.  Go take a look.  No matter where you live in the world, it’s pertinent and relevant.  What happens in the process of US Governance has a massive impact on everyone in the world, because of the sheer scale of US influence.  This ruling now allows:

  • Corporations and Unions to spend their funds on producing campaign advertisements.
  • Issue related advertisements to be allowed to be aired right up to an election.

The legal decision was drafted in terms of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, that refers to freedom of speech and expression.  One of the judges basically stated that the existing laws banning theabove effectively stifled free speech and expression.  I guess that Corporations and Trades Unions here are being regarded as living, breathing entities with Constitutional rights.   The cynics amongst us (me included) might argue that this effectively enshrines those Constitutional rights to those who have big enough wallets to by the advertising time….

Whatever the legal reasoning, this means that the special interests of organised Labour and of major Corporations will have the ability to use their resources to promote their special interests, target particular candidates they don’t particularly like, promote special interest laws – basically buy political influence.  And who buys political influence in the US, effectively buys it across much of the so-called ‘Free World’.

This is scary; the potential budgets available to these organisations would allow them to buy up advertising right, left and centre, thus effectively censoring any alternative points of view.  And it’s almost inevitable that the interests and demands of a corporation are likely to be rather different to that of the electorate as a whole.  It’s very scary.  This could very easily be the start of a new world in which the political mindset of the US is set even more heavily by the big Corporations and special interest groups.

Take a good look around you.  Your world just changed.