Conversations with CateyMaxx

Summarising @Nadine_MP‘s “informed consent” ideas: A woman can’t have an abortion until a christian nutter has tried to scare her out of it?

That’s the content of a tweet that I sent just before 6pm last night. I thought it nicely summed up the reasons behind Nadine Dorries’ recent speech in Parliament. I didn’t, of course, expect everyone to agree. I wasn’t prepared for the response I got from one corner of the internet.

Having sent the tweet, I went out for the night. Had it not been the era of the smartphone, I would have been completely cut off from the internet for the next few hours. But as I arrived at the venue I checked Twitter to find three tweets from CateyMaxx. For those of you who don’t know, CateyMaxx has been one of a small number of people who have been supporting Nadine Dorries over recent weeks. She said:

CateyMaxx: @davorg lol evening Dave – your usual Stirring self I see! You don’t believe that crap so why on EARTH do you say it? [6:28]

CateyMaxx: @davorg & also – what’s with the ‘Christian nutter’ jibe? @Nadine_MP is advocating informed choice – where do her religious beliefs come in? [6:30]

CateyMaxx: @davorg always presuming, of course, u know & understand her religious beliefs b’cos I certainly don’t! Maybe u’ve had a convo with her? [6:31]

Over the next ten minutes I sent her some replies – which she, in turn, replied to. I think I’ve reconstructed the order correctly here, but we’re often typing across each other.

davorg: @CateyMaxx We already have informed choice [Yes – I meant “consent”, not “choice”] – just not of the kind Nadine wants to see. [7:20]

CateyMaxx: @davorg I’m sure you know all about the choice that’s available to pregnant women? You’re so unnecessarily pedantic. [7:21]

davorg: @CateyMaxx She’s definitely a christian – she has said as much. And she hangs around with mutters [Typo: that should be “nutters” – I hope that’s obvious] like Christian Concern For Our Nation. [7:23]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Informed concent is already a legal requirement before any major medical procedure. [7:27]

CateyMaxx: @davorg ok, so let’s be clear – you say ‘Christian Concern’ (who @Nadine_MP as u put it ‘hangs around with’ are nutters? Can you elucidate? [7:27]

CateyMaxx: @davorg but it’s the TYPE of information which is accessible to ppl that matters . .surely. All @Nadine_MP is trying to do is make more [7:28]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Anyway, I’d love to chat more but I’m at a gig and the first band is about to come on. Have a nice evening. [7:28]

CateyMaxx: @davorg info to a wider no. of ppl – so they no the mental, emotional aswell as physical implications of abortion. What is wrong with that? [7:29]

CateyMaxx: @davorg lol . .you too! [7:29]

And that’s where we left it. Or, at least, that’s what I though. I dipped back into Twitter a couple of hours later whilst waiting for the headliners to come on, only to see this:

CayeyMaxx: New Blog Post: Tory Totty Online: Is OCD Sweeping the Blogosphere? [9:17]

I replied as soon as I saw it and we got into another conversation.

davorg: @CateyMaxx Nicely done. Writing an attack on me like that when you know I’m busy and won’t be able to respond for 12 hours. [9:39]

CateyMaxx: @davorg Havent written an ‘attack’ on you – merely reported what’ on your blog. Why? What’s up? [9:40]

davorg: @CateyMaxx And missing out my side of tonight’s conversation was a nice touch. You’ve been learning from the masters :-) [9:42]

CateyMaxx: @davorg thats because you LEFT the conversation and didn’t answer me lol Its all there in b&w. No-ones attacking u – dont be so sensitive [9:43]

davorg: @CateyMaxx I wrote 4 or 5 replies to you which are missing from your blog post. That’s hardly balanced reporting. [9:47]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Hope your blog comments are working early tomorrow morning :-) [9:48]

CateyMaxx: @davorg in that case . . .I will go back and have a look and then put them in the post . . . . the comments are working fine. Feel free. [9:53]

CateyMaxx: @davorg Oh yes – I’ve found them. Will add them to the post now ok? :-) [9:54]

davorg: @CateyMaxx Thank you. I’ll a comment tomorrow. Must go again. Tunng are about to come on. [9:57]

And at that point, I settled in to enjoy Tunng and CateyMaxx wandered off to do whatever she does at that time on a Saturday night (I think it might involve watching the X Factor results programme).

Obviously I’ll come back to this later today and respond to the points that she made, but I just wanted to start by setting the scene and getting the full conversation written out in the order that it happened.


Where’s Your Data

We hear a lot of talk about how cloud computing is the future. Those of us who still run some of our own internet infrastructure are increasingly seen as slightly eccentric and old-fashioned. Why would anyone host their own mail server when we have Gmail or run their own blog when there is WordPress or Posterous. In fact, why have your own server at all when you can just use Amazon EC2?

Well during September I was reminded of the downside of the cloud when I almost lost two old blogs.

One of the earliest blogs I wrote was on the use.perl web site. Yes, it all looks a bit ropey now, but back in 2001, it was cutting edge stuff. Everyone in the Perl community was using it. But it never really had a service level agreement. It was run on someone’s employer’s network. And, of course, that was never going to last forever. Earlier this month he announced that he was leaving that job and the use.perl would be closing down. Currently, I think that the site is in read-only mode and there are some people in the Perl community who are trying to set up alternative hosting for the site. I hope that comes off. There’s almost ten years of Perl history stored up in that site. It would be a shame to see all those URLs turn into 404s.

And then there’s Vox. I never really used Vox that heavily, but I dabbled with it for a while. And now it’s also closing down. Six Apart put in place some procedures to transfer your blog posts to TypePad, but for reasons I couldn’t work out, that didn’t work for me. What I really wanted was to import the data into this blog (which runs on Movable Type, another Six Apart product) but for some reason that option wasn’t available. In the end I managed to import the posts into Posterous, but I seem to have lost all of the tags (not really a problem) and the comments (a pretty big problem), Oh, and I’ve just noticed that the images are still being hosted on Vox. Better fix that before Vox closes down – tonight.

So I’ve learnt an important lesson about trusting the cloud. It’s all very well putting your data up there, but be sure that you have an exit strategy. Find out how you can get your data out. And how much of your data you can get out easily. I put all of my photos on Flickr, but I keep copies locally as well. But the again, that’s not really enough is it? Sure I’ve got the photos, but if Flickr closes down tomorrow, I won’t have all the social interactions that have built up around my photos.

These scares have made me start to think about these issues. And I’ve been tracking down some other old stomping grounds. I’m pleased to report that my first ever blog (hosted by Blogger, which is now owned by Google) is still available.

Where’s your data? How much could you reconstruct if Facebook closed down tomorrow?


Polite Discourse

So today was the day that I was called a “sack of shit” by one of the UK’s most popular political bloggers.

It was all pretty silly really. I didn’t even really disagree with what he had written. I just pointed out that his blog entry had two completely unattributed quotations.

It’s Iain’s blog, of course, so it’s completely up to him whether or not he wants to publish unattributed quotations. My point was that not to do so might lead people to wonder where they came from. It’s so easy to link to sources on the web that if you don’t you run the risk of arousing suspicion.

I found a reference for one of the quotes (it was a parliamentary Early Day Motion – they aren’t hard to find), but Google came up blank for the other. I had assumed that it came from a blog post, but that no longer looked likely. I asked Iain if he had made it up. I didn’t believe for a second that he had invented it (although, of course, he has previous in this area), I was just demonstrating the conclusions that it was possible to reach from the information he had made available.

And that’s when he might have overreacted just a touch in his reply. A suspicious person might wonder why that touched such a nerve, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt (I’m sure he’d do the same for me). I pointed to his reply on Twitter and he responded:

@davorg Next time don’t make groundless allegations. if you can’t stand the heat, and all that…

I made no allegation, let alone a groundless one.

Bizarrely, even though he took such obvious umbrage at my question, he followed my advice and edited his blog post so that it included a link to the EDM. He also stated in his reply that the other quotation came from a private email. So I got all the answers I wanted. Which was nice.

When you’re blogging you can choose the amount of reference material that you show to your readers. I like to link to any articles that I’m quoting and generally throw in as many links as possible to my sources so that my readers can make up their own minds about my interpretations of what I’m writing about. Other people deal in scurrilous rumour or unsubstantiated gossip. You wouldn’t expect them to link to their sources. That’s their choice. It’s their blog. They can follow their own rules. Whatever makes them comfortable.

In my opinion, showing your sources is treating your readers as adults. It’s trusting them to draw their conclusions about what you’re writing. It’s showing your working for extra credit. Giving your readers no information about your sources is treating them like idiots. It’s a tabloid style of blogging and whenever I come across that style of blogging it makes me wonder what they are hiding.

In my mind, showing your sources equates to quality blogging. Not doing so is suspect.

I don’t expect  everyone to agree with me. I do, however, expect to be able to make these suggestions on one of the UK’s most read political blogs without the blog author calling me a sack of shit.

That’s just rude.


Blog Nation 2010

Yesterday, I was at Liberal Conspiracy’s Blog Nation 2010 conference. This was a chance for left liberal bloggers to get together and discuss strategies we can adopt now that we find ourselves in opposition (or a minority partner in the coalition government).

Sunny has already blogged his thoughts on how the conference went. He asked for other people’s thoughts/ These are mine.

It was great to meet so many liked-minded bloggers and to put faces to blogs that I’ve been reading for years. I also felt that most of the presentations and discussions were really useful and interesting. There were, however, a couple of area that I thought could be improved.

Pretty much all of the discussion centred on the messages that we can publish to counter the right-wing rhetoric we get from most of the media. This was all good stuff, but I couldn’t help wondering if we were addressing the problem at the wrong level.

I have no doubt that we’re all already doing what we can to publish these kinds of stories. I’m sure that we can all raise our game in this area, but  don’t believe that is the main problem that we have. The main problem is making sure that as many as possible are reading what we write. An d I was slightly disappointed that this issue was barely covered.

I have no easy solution to this problem. I suppose that we need to give some more thought to SEO. But I’m sure that there are other things that we can do to get our message in front of more people. I’d welcome a discussion on this topic at next year’s Blog Nation. But in the meantime, feel free to add ideas in the comments below.


Iain Dale Talks Balls

Iain Dale has some new and interesting information about Labour Party leadership contender, Ed Balls. Apparently whilst he was at Oxford in the  80s, Balls was a member of the Conservative Association there.

Except, of course, the news isn’t as new or interesting as Dale would have you believe. Dale quotes from an article in the Independent from July 2006 where Tory MP Philip Hollobone remembers Balls being a member of the association.

But, crucially, Dale “forgets” to link to the article in question so that his readers can check his sources for themselves. And after the bit that Dale quotes, the article goes on to say this:

“Ed hasn’t exactly advertised the fact, but he’s never sought to hide it either. It even featured in the jokes at his wedding,” I’m told.

“He joined the Tories at Oxford because they used to book top-flight political speakers, and only members were allowed to attend their lectures.

“Ed was, however, also a member of the Labour Club. He was more active in that, and was always, at heart, a man of the left.”

Dale leaps to the conclusion that because Balls was a member of the Conservative Association, he must have been a conservative. The unquoted section of the article makes it clear that Balls was a member of the association because they had interesting political meetings. The comments on Dale’s blog post go further than this and make it clear that this is really common at Oxford – if you’re interested in politics then you’ll join a number of political societies whether or not you agree with their politics.

Obviously Dale is a Tory blogger, so you’d expect him to try to attack the Labour leadership candidates. But to sink to this level shows a certain level of desperation.

If you’re going to base a blog post on an article that can be found on the web, then it’s only common courtesy to link to that article so that your readers can read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions about what you’re writing. Not doing so immediately makes people think that you’re hiding something. Which, in this case, seems to be the case.

It’s a nasty, tabloid way of reporting. And I hope that Dale aspires to be higher quality than that.


Review of 2009: Favourite Posts

Following on from my earlier list of the most popular posts on this site over the last year, here is a list of my favourite posts. As last year, I’ve chosen one from each month.

  • Hope
    Not many posts to choose from in January so I’ve chosen one where I tried to sum up the hope I felt following Barack Obama’s inauguration.
  • Creationist Idiocy in the UK
    My reactions to the depressing findings of a poll which showed that creationism is on the rise in the UK.
  • Internet Genealogy
    A post summarising the changes that the internet has brought to the world of genealogy.
  • Overcomplicating Matters
    An attempt to understand why so many MPs’ web sites and blogs get the simplest of things horribly wrong.
  • Defending Homeopathy (Or Not)
    A post telling the story of how Neal’s Yard’s Remedies scored a spectacular publicity own goal by failing to engage with the Guardian’s readership.
  • Who Is To Blame?
    In June we had European elections. And the BNP won two seats. This made a large number of rational people very angry. In this post I tried to understand what had caused people to vote for such poisonous representatives.
  • A Life Well Documented
    In July I wrote about a couple of projects that were helping me to document my life.
  • Support from the Internet
    In August I alomost didn’t get to a conference because I couldn’t find my passport. I found it in the end and just made it to the airport in time. This post tells the story and talks about the incredible support I was getting from my friends on Twitter and Facebook whilst the saga was unfolding.
  • Building Web Sites is Easy
    Returning to an earlier theme, I looked at why so many organisations spend too much money on web sites and end up with unmaintainable monstrosities, when the open source solution is often better.
  • Nadnomics
    Nadine Dorries gave me a lot of material this year. In this post I attempted to teach her the basics of statistics.
  • He Blinded Me with Science
    Following the sacking of David Nutt, in early November AN Wilson wrote the most ridiculous pile of anti-scientific nonsense that I’ve ever read. In this post I pointed out some of his most obvious errors. This post was also featured on Mailwatch where it received rather more comment.
  • I Can’t Hear You La La La La
    One thing that really wound me up in 2009 was the number of people who used blogs and Twitter to broadcast their opinions rather than as a tool for interaction. This post has some examples from that well-known internet expert Nadine Dorries.
  • Thanks for reading. Happy New Year.


Review of 2009: Most Popular Posts

Last year I experimented with writing a couple of posts that summarised the year on davblog. It was interesting (if only because it gave me some useful perspective on what I’d been doing over the year) so I’m going to do the same for 2009. In this post I’ll look at the ten most read articles that I posted this year and in another post I’ll list some of my favourite posts.

So here are the ten most read articles from this site that were written during 2009.

  1. Thunderbird and Exchange
    I’m surprised to see this at the top to be honest. It’s a pretty standard piece summarising my experiments in sharing calendars between Thunderbird and Exchange. It was published in June but for some reason it had a huge spike in visits early in December.
  2. The Power of Social Media
    This is what I expected to see at the top. In October, social media had a particularly interesting week when it was behind three successful campaigns. I summarised the week in this post. This post had a huge boost in popularity when Graham Linehan mentioned it on Twitter.
  3. Headphones on the G1 I think that many people were experiencing the same problems as I did with the headphones on my G1. I hope this post helped them.
  4. Good Drugs vs Bad Drugs
    Very happy to see this in the top ten as it’s a piece I’m particularly proud of. following on from the sacking of David Nutt, this piece covers some of the points about drugs that the mainstream press don’t seem to be interested in covering.
  5. Simpler Facebook URLs
    Something I knocked out quickly when I got annoyed with Facebook’s ridiculous URL structure and saw a simple way to improve it. Later in the year, Facebook introduced a simpler URL structure which renders these ideas obsolete.
  6. There’s Probably No Bus
    A silly post containing a picture based on the Athiest Bus Campaign.
  7. Freedom is in Peril
    No idea why this was so popular. Another post that contains pretty much nother other than a picture. Good poster though. And I expect it nicely captured the mood of the time.
  8. Simon Singh vs The British Chiropractic Association
    Lots of people wrote far more eloquently than I did about the British Chiropractic Association suing Simon Singh for libel, so I’m glad that some people found my article interesting enough to read. It’s still an important case and nicely illustrates the idiocy of the UK libel laws. One good result of this high profile case was the setting up of the Libel Reform Campaign.
  9. Watching the Watchmen
    A pretty obvious title for my review of the Watchmen film.
  10. Please Don’t Label Me
    A post covering the launch of the “Please Don’t Label Me” campaign from the same people who brought us the Atheist Bus Campaign. This campaign addressed the issue of children being labelled with the religion of their parents before they have a chance to make up their own mind.

So there it is. I think that’s a pretty good cross-section of kinds of things that I’ve been writing about over the last year. Thank you for reading and I hope you continue to find this site interesting over the next twelve months.


Unsaying Things on the Internet

I think that one of the reasons that a certain type of politician is wary of the internet is that once you’ve said something on the internet, it becomes very hard to unsay it. If you’re used to dealing with the world of newpapers and broadcast media where everything is ephemeral then it must be quite a culture shock to deal with a medium where everything is archived and people can carefully compare what you said last week with what you are saying today. Of course, if something is published on your own web site you’d think that it was easy enough to alter what you wrote and claim that we’ve always been at war with Eurasia. But it’s not that simple.

Here’s a good case in point. Last week Nadine Dorries wrote a piece on her blog entitled “All’s Fair in War and Politics”, where she questioned the credentials of one of her opponents. It was an astonishing piece and not something that a careful politician would ever write. Here’s what she said:

My Labour opponent had a very strong letter in the Beds On Sunday this week.

In the letter he deployed his usual tactic of distorting the facts, something I’m becoming used to these days; however, he also said:

“I fought for as a soldier in Iraq in 2003”.

Anyone who reads my blog will know how pro-military I am.

I stand in awe and admiration of our soldiers, their professionalism and bravery.

Only last week, I wrote of how moved I was when I heard a Scots Dragoon Guard use his moment on TV to talk about the moment a soldier receives his pre-assignment message: ‘ contact with the enemy is certain’ – and what it is that fires that soldier on, one of our heroes, into battle.

So, you can imagine, when I read the words “I fought as a soldier in Iraq” I was quite impressed. Gosh, thought I, good job I’m the MP or I may be tempted to vote for him myself.

Only, did he fight in Iraq? Did he go out into the danger zones along with the a regiment on Op Telic 8, and risk his life and limb side by side with our soldiers, for the sake of freedom and democracy? The values for which he claims to have “fought in Iraq” .

I will be interested to find out the answer.

Claiming to be a hero when you write a political letter as the Labour candidate in a newspaper is a very big claim indeed. One that secures advantage and wins you votes.

Let’s hope it’s true.

I got that from Google’s cache of the site because it’s no longer on her web site. It seems that someone has had a quiet word in her ear and the piece has been somewhat toned down. Here’s what it currently says (I’m not just linking to it in case it changes again in the future):

The local press are picking this up now, I will leave it up to them.

Anyone who reads this blog will understand that I have the hugest regard for all serving military personnel, TA, Army, Navy and Air Force and consider myself very lucky indeed to have two bases in my constituency. RAF Henlow, Chicksands and a TA training base.

I talk to many soldiers, regular and TA before they leave to serve, and as detailed in my blog, ‘A Soldiers Tale’, when they arrive home. I know and understand well exactly the danger and the operations they engage in.

However, the one thing I have learnt over the last few weeks is that in the battlefield of politics, one needs to be absolutely honest AND precise. Nothing less will do.

Which is, I hope you’ll agree, completely different to the original piece. It’s so watered down that the original point has been completely lost (it’s like homeopathic blogging!)

I’m not sure what Dorries intended by editing this post. Or, more importantly, editing this post without saying what she had done. A more responsible blogger would have struck through the original text and left a note saying why it had been done. Or, if the text needed to be removed for legal reasons, replaced it with a note explaining what had happened.

Editing text without any explanation really looks like that you’re intending to fool people into thinking that the current version is what you had always believed. And that’s dishonest. And we don’t expect dishonesty from our MPs[1]. Luckily the internet has a longer memory than that.

We have always been at war with Oceania.

[1] Well, ok, yes. Of course we do expect dishonesty from our MPs. But we shouldn’t.


Supporting Mad Nad

I find myself in the extremely odd position of having to support Nadine Dorries. I mean, obviously I despise the woman. And I don’t think she ever wrote a word on her blog that I agreed with. But I do think that she should be allowed to spout whatever nonsense she wants without having lawyers shutting her down. It’s appalling that any ISP will just remove a blog on the basis of a letter from lawyers. Nadine may be barking mad, but she hasn’t been found guilty of any crime.

Craig Murray explains in more detail, so I don’t have to.

So, whoever’s making a list of bloggers who object to this action, please include me on the list.


A Missing Blog

Looks like Nadine Dorries might have gone too far this time.

She’s been on extremely dodgy ground for the last week, since the Daily Telegraph’s investigation into MPs’ expenses started looking at her. Over the last week she’s been posting an increasing bizarre stream of consciousness on her blog. She tried to explain what was going on with here expenses but only succeeded in raising more questions than she answered.

Over the last couple of days, she excelled herself with three astonishing claims.

  • MPs are really worried that this investigation will lead to suicides in their ranks.
  • MPs were told to see the Additional Costs Allowance as part of their salary and were encouraged to spend as much of it as possible.
  • The Telegraph’s investigation into expenses is a plot by the Barclay brothers (who own the paper) in order to destabilise the main parties and boost UKIP’s chances at the forthcoming European Elections.

Yesterday she did a round of media appearances where she repeated all of these claims and compared the Telegraph’s investigation to a McCarthyite witch-hunt. This was too much for David Cameron, who publicly rebuked her – she denied this on her blog but it got plenty of press coverage.

You’ll notice that I haven’t backed any of this up with links to her blog. That’s because it doesn’t seem to be around at the moment. It seems that The Telegraph objected to her article and sent in the lawyers. That’s a shame, especially given that she was doing such a good job of digging her own political grave.