Friday, 13 January 2012

Depressing news of SOPA, and censorship but United Utilities gets it right

It’s been a depressing week for news, and will probably get worse as we approach ‘Blue Monday’ next week (or the week after, there seems to be disagreement over this year's date). This is supposedly the most depressing day of the year when we run out of money because of Christmas overspending, the weather is crap, New Year resolutions are difficult or broken, work is back to the routine and numerous other alarums and excursions make life difficult.

This week has been bad enough with the USA passing laws to allow the imprisonment of its citizens without trial by allowing the military to take over police duties. This supposedly contravenes their constitution, but as we know politicians don't care about such things nowadays.

Then we have our own Ken Clarke trying to do something equally totalitarian, attempting to bring in laws giving the UK authorities the absolute powers of a third world tyranny. The power to lock people away and disappear them using a secret trial, without jury or publicity, in which the accused will not even be allowed to speak in their own defence or have contact with their appointed defence lawyer. (so how can that work?) The accused will not even know what crime they have been accused of. This breaks every single rule of justice and fairness, and indeed breaches our constitution. The most frightening part to me was the Mail report (can't find it now) where he said it was merely clarifying and simplifying procedures, which makes you wonder what they have been doing.

Next on my depression list we have the US SOPA and PIPA laws to censor the internet. (Here for Nominedeus' take.) If this goes ahead everyone will be affected as effectively any court in the USA will have carte blanche to close any Internet site across the world by removing their domain registration. Worse than that it makes the carriers ISPs and net service providers responsible for any copyright violations their customers might post., making life impossible for any public services like Facebook, Google, and Twitter that host user's content. In the light of today’s news of the extradition trial of a UK computer user  to the USA for allegedly breaking US copyright laws nobody will be safe from accusation even outside the USA. And the USA wonder why the world thinks of them as bullies! Fortunately there is significant opposition to the bills and for once Google, Facebook, Wordpress and other groups find themselves on the same side as Anonymous. An interesting example of my enemy's enemy. There is talk of an Internet blackout in protest next week. Being old I can remember the USA arguing that they should have control of international Domain registrations via ICANN because they would ensure its safety and independence while the Arabs, Europeans and Chinese and suchlike foreign folks couldn't be trusted not to misuse the power.....

With regards to the usual and ongoing greed culture I note EDF and British Gas, having hiked their prices for the winter, are now trying to pretend to be nice by giving us half the increase back, but not until they have filled their coffers during the last blast of winter weather.  This sort of commercial manipulation and extortion seems almost benign and irrelevent  in comparison to the things our political elites have in store.

But then yesterday I had one of those unexpected moments when at least one tiny bit of the world supplied a glimmer of hope in people. In the morning our water pressure went down to a trickle, and then the supply stopped. The problem with combi boilers! An interruption in supply really does mean no water at all which is annoying,. I was also a bit concerned about our elderly, on-their-own neighbour, so phoned the utility company. No waiting or queuing, and despite the usual mess of questions about address, date of birth, customer number, granny’s shoe size* etc to get to the helpline once there the helpline were helpful! Saying they already had reports of low pressure at our postcode and were investigating a suspected leak. I went out for the afternoon but there was still no water when I returned at 5pm. I checked the utility website (and the neighbour) and sure enough on the water company problems page was an item saying they had a burst main, where it was (about a mile from me) and that work was in progress. At about 8:30 in the evening the water came back. To my surprise about 15 minutes later the phone rang. The same helpful person from the utility company helpdesk, to tell me the workmen had reported the pipe as fixed and she was phoning to check our water had come back OK with no problems. We often complain about utility companies but it’s nice to know that within them there are people who do care about their customers and about providing a good service even at almost 9pm. So whatever negative opinions I hold I have to give United Utilities full marks for doing their job efficiently and helpfully on this occassion.
* that last one is a slight exageration

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