Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Straddling the Great Firewall

The Google Censorship Controversy

No link here, just some comment on features that hit the UK television news tonight. Everyone leads on the new censored Google portal in China, despite the fact that none of them cared to give coverage to the equally important issue of Google combating the US government data requests. There is too much talk about nothing here - Google's main search engines are probably the best on the web and worldwide. Yet search via their UK portal and you get results that are more local and advertising pitched to UK readers. The new China portal seems very similar. Those that know how to bypass the Great Firewall will continue to do so, but the average local web user in China will probably prefer censored results. Why? Not because of the censorship, but because it will be easier to use - listings will not include links that the communist state blocks anyway, so surfing will be faster with less "dead ends". Google are really just improving their local service and as China itself opens up slowly, so will the local engine.

The BBC's local London news featured an item on Camden. This is a London borough renowned for its market area and entertainment facilities - street life has been at the fore of its reputation. Now they have a rather absurd idea for combating the drug dealers who gravitate to the area to service those markets. The focus, despite home secretary Charles Clarke's recent decision not to do a legislative U-turn on the issue, is on that milder herb, marijuana. Moststreet trading in this product does involve the stronger variety known as "skunk", but dealers are so prevelant that the police cannot address every instance - especially where the evidence will usually amount to little more than that covered by the definition of "personal use". So the local council has taken another approach.

They are using their CCTV hub to monitor activities themselves and are subsequently issuing ASBOs (Anti-social Behaviour Orders - a civilian imposed measure) on anybody suspected of dealing on the basis that their street activity is a nuisance. For those on the receiving end, this involves a ban from the local area, which (conveniently for Camden) simply shifts the problem to adjacent boroughs. Those boroughs are not altogether happy with the consequences.

A council spokesman turned up on the programme to try putting on a favourable pitch. Fortunately, Andy Cornwall of the Cannabis Education Trust was also on hand to point out the folly and suggest they could solve the problems far more easily by creating licensed premises where these small-time suppliers could move inside and do their business privately.

Harking back to yesterday's comments on prostitution, it was this same borough (Camden) that thought it could tackle that problem by shifting those involved off the streets of King's Cross and other areas. The result? The profession moved across the local borders, leaving the central hub of the station area for residential areas where the perceived "nuisance" was even greater. Once again - all right for Camden, but damn the neighbours. If a council itself can be so un-accomodating to those around it, they can hardly complain if their own population mimic the practice in microcosm.

More grim looks in the White House. Early results now suggest that Hamas may have grabbed a very large sector of the vote in Palestine. Their community and infrastructure work, together with the technological aid they have provided to the people, has almost certainly counted for a lot. Three words for Bush and Israel - this is democracy! So stop meddling!

Lastly, Tony Blair has come up with yet another not-so-bright idea. A few days back I published links to news stories on the proposed privatisation of "drop-in" GP surgeries for busy city workers and the like. Today we learn he wants them in Tesco stores and other supermarkets too! (GPs are our regular family doctors here in Britain.) It's supposed to be something to do with the convenience factor and presumably the fact that megstores now sell more drugs than traditional chemists. The main idea appears to involve these new surgeries renting space within the stores in the same way coffee shops do, but they haven't discounted the idea of supermarkets "employing" doctors and nurses directly.

The conflict of interest should be obvious - prescriptions written for in-store products and, worse still, advice that doesn't include the dangers of the store's products. In the latter case, that now includes almost every foodstuff and pollutant imaginable. Of course, a conscientious GP might take the oportunity to examine your shopping bags and insist you return 75% of the products to the till, but somehow I can't quite see that!


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