Tuesday, 26 June 2012

"There are plenty of jobs for those who want it."

"There are plenty of jobs for those who want it. Just go out there find it and work hard"

The wise words of a Mr Thomas Hablin from Romford (25 years old, as if that matters). If wise, of course, means "lazy, unfounded and utterly ridiculous".

Thomas speaks in the way that the Conservatives of this country would like us to all think, that those not in work are only there by choice, that it is a workshy nature of the public that causes our current economic woes.

I call bullshit.

For a start, let's see how many people are unemployed in Romford.

According to the data compiled by the Guardian's data blog, in May of this year around 2100 people were unemployed, with men outnumbering women unemployed around 2:1.

This isn't a problem though as, according to Mr Hablin, who works for the council (and therefore should know better), there are PLENTY of jobs....


Total Jobs lists, within a 5 mile radius of the center of Romford, a grand total of 368 jobs (at the time of writing, 26th June 2012). Some of these will be duplicates, but at best we can say that there are more than 5 people for every job going in the area.

EXCEPT...the area also covers Dagenham and Rainham (3,500 unemployed), Erith and Thamesmead (3,500 unemployed), Hornchurch and Upminster (2,200 unemployed), Illford (6,200 unemployed), Barking (4,700 unemployed) as well as part of Brentwood (1,200 unemployed) and Bexleyheath (1,800 unemployed).

So, in fact there are around 25,200 people going for those 368 jobs, over 68 people for every job going. Before anyone gets all "pointy fact nazi" on me, I do know that those 25 thousand people could well also look for jobs in their own area which doesn't overlap with my search. However if I do extend my search further to 20 miles from Romford, I still only manage to find some 10,000 jobs while simultaneously pushing the job search area over the center of London in to West London, and south past Croydon...so let's not split hairs over just how few jobs there are directly accessible to individuals near to where they live, let alone further afield.

Anyway, I'm glad we now know the new definition of "Plenty" in Tory britain.

Now that we know there are 'plenty' of jobs, and people just need to find it (well duh, job sites and the jobcenters, of course) and then work hard! Simple, right guys? I mean, isn't everyone 'F Gas 2079 certified' these days? Who doesn't have 'A working knowledge of JavaScript, CSS, XHTML, SQL and ASP'?

Let's stop pretending we've got an attitude problem in this country instead of a jobs problem. There are fundamentally not enough jobs for people to apply for, and even if they can find the vacancies, the chance of them being correctly qualified, with the right experience, is slim.

The reality is that our jobs market is serving a few elite people, and that the jobs are probably around only because of a skills shortage in this country (that the Government is trying it's hardest to retain through discouraging immigration) for the specific jobs in hand. Meanwhile thousands upon thousands of people in every area of the country are fighting it out over jobs that they can be fired from without fair reason, on a wage that makes it hard to afford your rent, facing the prospect of having the housing benefit that might give them room to breathe stripped away from them.

But it's ok because as jobs dwindle, they will, like a phoenix, rise again in the form of unpaid "work placements" that those unemployed souls can be forced on to. Let's look on the bright side, everyone will find there way in to work soon enough, they just probably won't be paid for it.

Monday, 25 June 2012


We seem caught in an ideological war of hatred that is not all that different from that of the waves of racism that were pervasive in British society decades ago. While the "haven't-quite-got's" may have lashed out at those who were a different skin colour to themselves in the past, now it has somehow become simply "Benefit scroungers".

Scroungers. It's not even cheats any more, the narrative has moved on from the idea that the bad people in society are the ones conning us in to a meagre allowance from the state, now it's just about those that no doubt need the benefits as it stands, but are "undeserving".

On the whole the right wing press, rallying around David Cameron most recently with his talk of a blanket ban on under 25s getting housing benefit, will talk about "these people" like a drain on society, hurting us all through the tax we have to pay, the children they bring up to be wasters too. En masse these people group together as an indistinguishable mass of lazy, probably fat, certainly over-burdened with children, 50" HD screen buying wasters.

Yet, much like the "I'm not racist, I know [X] and he's a sound guy...it's just the rest of 'em" excuse making for prejudice, we all know people that are having real and true struggles with benefits and finding work.

We know that guy or woman who wants to work, who wants to move out of their parents house, who is applying for everything going. We know that they are being screwed about by the system, being made to jump through hoops, living in fear that if it goes on too long they'll be made to jump through even bigger hoops, making the choice between losing their benefits and still having time to look for work, or being forced to work for free stacking shelves for a major corporation.

We all know someone like this, yet for some they are the exception...everyone else of course is just resigning themselves to picking up the benefit check. Somehow these people don't have to jump through the same hoops, they don't have to show willingness to work, and they have jobs that they could take but are just too workshy to do so.

Unlike our dear friend who we know who has it completely the other way around.

But if we all know people like this...doesn't it show that actually there are thousands upon thousands of people on benefits only just staying afloat while they do everything they can to re-enter a level of normality in society? Isn't this exactly why the welfare system exists, to keep these people afloat?

The Conservatives don't see these benefits, they see only numbers on a machine, further debt that is all too easy to take away, justified by public support that is too blinkered to realise it is once again going through a population wide cultural campaign of discrimination. The stick is the approach, but like the horse getting whipped with it you have to question what the point is.

Forcing people in to voluntary work isn't finding them work, the vast majority don't have jobs waiting for them at the end of their "placement", some even being forced out of voluntary jobs that they're actually being productive in, vindictively, to instead service large corporations on threat of losing benefits.

Forcing people to simply not have housing benefits won't make living costs cheaper, whereas maybe tackling the rental market that has spiraled so out of control that in some areas of the UK it's as impossible to rent as it is to afford a mortgage would, as would dealing with wage disparity that sees executive pay rocket during a recession, while the real wages of low paid workers tumble ever downward, putting pressure on the welfare system as people NEED to find some way to plug the gap in their income vs outgoings equation.

While there may be a minority of people that choose, subconsciously or otherwise, to remain in the shadow of benefits, I believe the majority do not, as it is those who are trying to claw their way out of the shadow that we all see in the faces of our friends and our family, and rarely the other kind. The problem is not that they are on benefits, but that the trench they're in is too deep to get back out of without a ladder.

Cameron and his Conservatives want to put a hole in the trench, so that people fall straight through and in to hell, and hope that this is incentive enough for them to climb a bit harder, if that were even possible. What we should be doing is putting down ladders. Without more jobs being created, without better wages, without lower rents...people will always find themselves sliding back down in to this sorrowful pit where their life is not in their own hands.

We seem to be at a crossroads, one that unfortunately looks like it's becoming a one way street every day we carry on. It's time to work out if we're ethically and morally happy with abandoning people completely to homelessness, absolute poverty, starvation, in an effort to punish the few who may abuse a system or choose to remain in it at least...or we can recognise that with any socially liberal system you have a certain level of "gaming" of the system that is cost-prohibitive to enforce against, but this is a price you pay to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to keep up with the rest of us.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Render twitter embedded tweet (web intents style) dynamically

Just a quick one, a note about the Twitter oEmbed API. If you use Javascript to load in this content and insert it in to the page,instead of doing as they ask and caching it, though you could still insert a newly found web intents widget and cache it at the same time, the tweet will be the basic HTML that is returned via the API call to Twitter's oEmbed service.

In your callback, where you're adding the HTML to the page that has been returned by the oEmbed API, make sure you put the following in to "kick start" your code's styling, ensuring the embedded tweet is styled up as a web intents widget and not just a blockquote:



Friday, 15 June 2012

Argyll and Bute censoring a 9 year old, why?

Argyll and Bute council have today released a statement as to why they have taken the measure to force a school, a school that had no problem with the following occurrences, to stop a 9 year old from photographing her school meals and posting them on her blog.

Let me critique a few of their reasonings for carrying out what, ultimately, amounts to censorship of the press*:

Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press

Unwarranted attacks? For a start it is not for Argyll and Bute to decide what is unwarranted or not. If this girl was attacking the council (which she was not) then she obviously feels it's warranted. Assuming that no actual lies or misrepresentations were made, hard to do with a real picture taken of real food, then it's not for the council to make any claims as to the legitimacy of any "attacks".

Not that they were attacks anyway, let's take a sample of the latest posts...

Lunch was really nice today and it helped cheer me up. Macaroni Cheese at school is so creamy and it's nice to have it with the crunchy radishes and peppers. You don't have to have mash with the macaroni but they offered me some and I took it as I always have mash if it's offered. We don't get jelly often, maybe about twice in every 4 weeks, and I like to put it on my spoon and suck it through my teeth. It's so slippy it doesn't really make a noise so I don't upset my friends!

There is always spag bol the day after mince pasta which I think are the same meal really. The fajita was lovely because there was no fat on the chicken and it was covered in salsa. I cut it up rather than pick it up in case I dropped bits which isn't popular. It is quite hard to eat peas and sweetcorn without dropping them but I was very careful. The dessert is called Australian Crunch but I don't know why. The only reason I can think of is it has coconut in it unless its a traditional Australian recipe. I didn't finish my dessert so no fruit.

I asked if I could have a dessert and soup and they said yes, maybe because there was a lot of soup left. The soup was carrot and I ate half of it but then stopped because it was too hot! I finished my soup after I ate my pasta and before my yoghurt. I didn't quite finish my pasta because it had a lot of onions in it.

I'm not going to pretend that this is necessarily scientifically reflective of the entire blog...except that someone already has done the work to see just how much the Never Seconds blog attacks the food on offer...

A 75% score rate, how very scathing, Argyll and Bute council!


headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs.

So why is this the problem of VEG, her dad, and their blog? If they fear for their jobs it is because the school or council are doing nothing to manage their expectations and to give them the right assurances. If the staff can get afraid that they'll lose their jobs off the back of a 75% enjoyment rate by a single child, doesn't that say a lot more about the probably terrifying circumstances these staff work under with clearly victorian working practices being employed by their employers?

The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons

Politically they recognised that it is impossible to tarnish the image of a 9 year old girl writing thoughtful posts on her lunches, yes...

In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

Now, does the blog purport to be a complete review of the food standards and choices at school? No, check the first post and you'll see it's clearly a fun take on reviewing what she's eating.

If Argyll and Bute had a problem with this website being taken "out of context" to any degree by the press, then they had other options here. Would VEG or her father have had any problem with including a link on the side of her blog to a full menu provided by the school/council to show the full range of options? How about empowering OTHER students to take up this kind of journalism to get a wider range of views?

No, Argyll and Bute went for the nuclear option, hence why the Streisand Effect is in full force.

There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

Which is his absolute damn right. I'm sorry Argyll and Bute, but does OTHER PEOPLE making comments you don't like based on information they gain from a 3rd party mean the third party needs shutting down?

The council here essentially admit that VEG and her dad have done *nothing* wrong, but they don't like the media response...and since the dad was unwilling to stop supplying information publicly (instead of trying to sell a story about crappy school meals in private, for example), they are now punished?

This is actually outrageous.

The media report on all kinds of things about political life, most of it negative. There is a DIRECT comparison here between what the Never Seconds blog is doing, and freedom of information requests. I'm sure Argyll and Bute would love to not give information about it's inner workings via FOI, to help stop those evil media people from doing there job of scrutinising and reporting on our power-wielding leaders, but they can't, because of the law.

So on that note, why exactly is it legal to stop someone from photographing what they're eating and talking about it?

"The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog."

So despite all of this terrible media coverage purely intended to unfairly tarnish the council's good name...no-one has actually made an official complaint.

All in all I think this is a very important case, the council have played their big gun cards with this statement, insinuating all kinds of evils that have come as a result of this...but they've simply skimmed over the fact that all this Never Seconds blog has done is carry out journalism. If any of these claims were made about a press agency, a paper, or official processes like the FOI process, there would be huge questions about what is going on at Argyll and Bute if they think that they can trample over basic human rights in order to keep 'bad news' from surfacing.

Watch this space...

*OK, so a girl in school isn't the press...but if she was writing this column for her local newspaper, would the council get away with such censorship?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

But I NEEEEED it: The police's childish attitude to web privacy

In news originally touted as "Stopping councils from snooping" as I'm sure the ministers involved would rather new laws on interception of our personal communications online are reported, the BBC has detailed today's developments on the law proposed to help the authorities spy on us online.

But, as Mark Pack says, there is also a good side to how things have progressed on this law, and that is that there are two strong, liberal and importantly technologically aware individuals, at least, that will be the voice of reason on the cross-party panel that will vet this bill. Finger's crossed what we see as the final product to be debated is severely gutted.

I shalln't go in to much depth on this, I have elsewhere in the past, but more importantly there is a good article on this I think you should read anyway.

What I want to focus on is the core and poisonous reason this bill is even in existence at all right now.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, writing in the Times, said having greater powers to access data was essential in waging a "total war on crime" - and he warned that police risked losing the fight against crime unless MPs passed a law enabling them to collect more communications data.

The Met police chief wrote: "Put simply, the police need access to this information to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society."

The police don't "need" anything of the sort, and that's what pisses me off. This law will actually do nothing to actually keep up with the types of criminals that they should be worried about, as those people will be operating in ways that render this law useless to use against them. It certainly won't allow people that were previously unknown to the police to be forced out in the open either.

What the police actually mean to say is they "want" to have this power, as it would be another tool in their box to use when it comes to helping to secure some conviction against someone already a suspect.

To say that they "need" this, to wage "total war", is to say that they need a lot of things. Like a total surveillance camera network to track where you go between leaving the house and coming home again, or even surveillance in your home that they can access records of without a warrant.

They don't need any of this, they are just asking, as they are always doing, for more authoritarian powers because it makes their job easier. It is not the government's job to just give in to this.

The real, and only, need in this whole scenario is for politicians to get educated on this issue and to protect the balance between security of the state and individuals, and the liberties of individuals.

As Julian Huppert is reported to have said today in the first briefing on this draft law, it is up to those who believe they need these powers to prove that need if that is how they wish to present it. They need to show what will happen if they don't have the powers, what the implications will be, and what the risks are.

If they can't do this then they are no better than the child in a toy shop shouting and screaming about how they need , and like any good parent would do, the government should treat it with the same disregard and learn not to spoil them so much.