being British? always a second class citizen

The most important reason for a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming Scottish independence referendum is the potential for a new nation that is a beacon of a fairer, greener and more inclusive society.  This would ultimately be to the good of the whole of the UK.

However, I’ve also noted a general lack of comprehension by many south of the border who struggle to understand the desire for Scottish Independence.

This was voiced a few days ago in a Facebook thread and this was my response as a Welshman living north of the border.:

As a Welshman I have always had a romantic nationalist edge, but also felt a strong British patriotism.

However events over the years, and not least the referendum campaign have hardened this.  Again and again Westminster politicians tell us that Scotland is better with England, as if Wales and Northern Ireland did not exist.

I have heard this language all my life: in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the second World War, in numerous debates in immigration, in company registration (registered in Cardiff, a company in England and Wales, but subject to *English* law), … and has been noted several times the Bank of England.

The difference in this campaign is that this is when politicians are supposed to be being careful of their language.  We even had the government lawyer explaining that the separated rUK and Scotland would not be equally parts of a previous single nation when looking towards external international bodies, not based on measures such as the population (reasonable), but because really and legally Scotland was never a partner country in a union, but was always amalgamated unto England.

There have been hundreds of years to sort out these things, but it has not happened yet, what chance for the next 100 years?

As a  child I was pedalled a lie.

There never was, and never will be a Britain.

As a Welshman, I am as British as Indians were in the ‘British Empire’.

Within the UK I always have been, and always will be, a second class citizen.

In contrast to this Scotland (despite sectarian tensions that erupt occasionally in Celtic-Rangers crowds) accepts incomers as was amply demonstrated in the difference between the spitting bigotry of the Westminster leaders’ debates at the last General Election compared with the far more civilised, cultured,and above all inclusive Scottish leaders’ debate, with all parties, including the Scottish Conservative leader, praising the richness through diversity and immigration.

Whether it is a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’, the shape of the UK will change fundamentally tomorrow.

If it is ‘No’, I hope the UK will eventually wake up to the fact that it is a nation of nations.

If it is ‘Yes’, then I know, that even as a Welshman far from my birthplace, I will be in a country where I can feel at home.

why Ukraine upsets me – the death of democracy

As is probably evident from occasional Tweets or Facebook comments, I can get hot under the collar about the events in Ukraine.  This is for several reasons, but for now the first and most important reason.

It should shock us all.

For the first time since the Second World War, we have seen the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government in Europe.

Let that sink in.

It does not matter whether you are pro-European or pro-Russian, left wing or right wing. In February we saw the overthrow of democracy in Europe.

That is shocking.

We have seen conflict in Europe before.  The breakup of the Iron Curtain was largely peacefully, with just the the odd tank fire on the Russian Parliament, but that can be passed by as the final effects of totalitarian government.  In Yugoslavia we saw a democratic state implode after the secession of part of its people, the violent reaction of central government and eventual ethnic cleansing.

We have seen democratic governments overthrown elsewhere: in Chile in the 1970s, in Egypt more recently.  However, the first was during the Cold War days, when anything was acceptable to defend against communism (the CIA even made contingency plans to  overthrow the Harold Wilson Labour government!), and in the latter case the Muslim Brotherhood government were arguably working to remove aspects of democracy.

But Ukraine was different.  It is clearly a complex situation, and it is easy to be critical from a distance.  The politics there is factional, rather like Northern Ireland, and clearly driven very strongly by the super-rich, not so unlike the US.  So, whether the pre-February Government in Ukraine was a good or bad one is a matter of debate, but its election was not.  The 2010 poll was operated by the previous pro-European administration, so there was no element of Gerrymandering, and, as far as any poll in the area could be, it was regarded as fair.

That is, there was no challenge to the fundamental democratic legitimacy of the pre-Feb 2014 government.

Yet, we watched and encouraged its violent downfall.

It is almost hard to recall now.  Certainly the BBC tends to remind us of the events in Crimea and the rise of pro-Russin separatists as the start of the conflict, but of course these were the response not the start.

The start was the Maidan protests; the daily images of police lines with fire bombs raining down, the arming of the protestors, the eventual bloody clashes with large numbers of protesters and also many police left dead on the streets, and the ensuing decision of the president to give up power rather than bring the army onto the streets of Kiev.

I imagine this was Britain.  Thatcher in 1990 and the Poll Tax riots; Blair in 2003 and the anti-Iraq War protests; Cameron in 2012 and the ‘Occupy’ movement.  In all cases, my sympathy was with the demonstrators, in all cases I wished the government had listened more to them, just as I’m fairly sure most of the Ukrainians I know would have supported the original causes of Maidan.  However, neither I nor anyone in the UK, whether they sided with the Poll Tax, Anti-War or Occupy protesters or with the government, would have wished for this to end with the overthrow of the government and the remaining parliament making decisions with the masked ex-protestors standing with automatic weapons at the doors of Westminster.

This is what happened in Ukraine.

And we in the West supported it, indeed encourage it.  US senator John McCain visited the demonstrators early, while they were still a peaceful ‘occupy’-like movement.  However,  EU representatives were there after the far-right elements had armed.

The press dressed this as people power against autocratic government.

It never was, simply a democratic government that made a decision that a large minority of its people (often violently) disagreed with, and most fundamentally was not one that we in the west agreed with.

And for the majority of people in Ukraine, for those who voted a government they trusted, we taught them that democracy does not pay, that democracy is a sham, that democracy is only good if the government you elect does the ‘right’ things as judged by the western media.

We have witnessed the death of democracy.

And applauded it.


just running (and the odd walk)

I now feel  little more prepared for Sunday’s 35 mile Tiree ultramarathon, which is following the coats of the island as closely as possible.  Sort of a bit like my walk around Wales, but on a smaller scale!

Tiree Ultamarathon Route

I’m planning to do a mix of run and walk.  The target is to get round in 10 hours.  This would be a doodle if it were all road and beaches as I can average 4 miles an hour fast walk, but the rough ground sections will be slow, so I need to run when I can to make up.

Today I ran and walked the section of the route that goes round the east end of the island, 11.5 miles on Sunday’s route, then 2 miles back across the island to home, and then, to cap off threw in a little 7.5 mile run down to Hynish and back.  In all 21 miles in five and a quarter hours, so the running and slow walking averaging out at 4 miles an hour, on track. I’m bound to slow a little as the day wears on, and the weather is set to be less good on Sunday, but it’s good to know I’m in the right ballpark.

My only problem is eating enough while moving.  I did manage to eat a Mars bar, but find it hard to eat when I’ve just been running, so had to wait for the long walk sections — I guess why the professional runners all use those gel packs.  I think I’ll get some more Kendal Mint Cake as that is far easier to simply suck/crunch and swallow, and no load on the stomach — straight sugar!

Of course, now it is evening I have to try and catchup with all the work I should have been doing in those five and quarter hours :-/

I’m not really doing it ‘for’ anything , but if you feel inspired the JustGiving pages on AlanWalksWales are still open for donations.

big brother Is watching … but doing it so, so badly

I followed a link to an article on Forbes’ web site1.  After a few moments the computer fan started to spin like a merry-go-round and the page, and the browser in general became virtually unresponsive.

I copied the url, closed the browser tab (Firefox) and pasted the link into Chrome, as Chrome is often billed for its stability and resilience to badly behaving web pages.  After a  few moments the same thing happened, roaring fan, and, when I peeked at the Activity Monitor, Chrome was eating more than a core worth of the machine’s CPU.

I dug a little deeper and peeked at the web inspector.  Network activity was haywire hundreds and hundreds of downloads, most were small, some just a  few hundred bytes, others a few Kb, but loads of them.  I watched mesmerised.  Eventually it began to level off after about 10 minutes when the total number of downloads was nearing 1700 and 8Mb total download.


It is clear that the majority of these are ‘beacons’, ‘web bugs’, ‘trackers’, tiny single pixel images used by various advertising, trend analysis and web analytics companies.  The early beacons were simple gifs, so would download once and simply tell the company what page you were on, and hence using this to tune future advertising, etc.

However, rather than simply images that download once, clearly many of the current beacons are small scripts that then go on to download larger scripts.  The scripts they download then periodically poll back to the server.  Not only can they tell their originating server that you visited the page, but also how long you stayed there.  The last url on the screenshot above is one of these report backs rather than the initial download; notice it telling the server what the url of the current page is.

Some years ago I recall seeing a graphic showing how many of these beacons common ‘quality’ sites contained – note this is Forbes.  I recall several had between one and two hundred on a single page.  I’m not sure the actual count here as each beacon seems to create very many hits, but certainly enough to create 1700 downloads in 10 minutes.  The chief culprits, in terms of volume, seemed to be two companies I’d not heard of before SimpleReach2 and Realtime3, but I also saw Google, Doubleclick and others.

While I was not surprised that these existed, the sheer volume of activity did shock me, consuming more bandwidth than the original web page – no wonder your data allowance disappears so fast on a mobile!

In addition the size of the JavaScript downloads suggests that there are doing more than merely report “page active”, I’m guessing tracking scroll location, mouse movement, hover time … enough to eat a whole core of CPU.

I left the browser window and when I returned, around an hour later, the activity had slowed down, and only a couple of the sites were still actively polling.  The total bandwidth had climbed another 700Kb, so around 10Kb/minute – again think about mobile data allowance, this is a web page that is just sitting there.

When I peeked at the activity monitor Chrome had three highly active processes, between them consuming 2 cores worth of CPU!  Again all on a web page that is just sitting there.  Not only are these web beacons spying on your every move, but they are badly written to boot, costuming vast amounts of CPU when there is nothing happening.

I tried to scroll the page and then, surprise, surprise:

So, I will avoid links to Forbes in future, not because I respect my privacy; I already know I am tracked and tracked; who needed Snowdon to tell you that?  I won’t go because the beacons make the site unusable.

I’m guessing this is partly because the network here on Tiree is slow.  It does not take 10 minutes to download 8Mb, but the vast numbers of small requests interact badly with the network characteristics.  However, this is merely exposing what would otherwise be hidden: the vast ratio between useful web page and tracking software, and just how badly written the latter is.

Come on Forbes, if you are going to allow spies to pay to use your web site, at least ask them to employ some competent coders.

  1. The page I was after was this one, but I’d guess any news page would be the same.[back]