23 December 2003


Censored - again

If you go to Old Grumpy's homepage and click on "Past columns - May 20 2003" you will be connected to the Tiscali web site which displays the message: "Sorry the web page you requested cannot be found."
Below that there are half a dozen possible reasons for the page's unavailability.
What you will not read is that the page (and six others) have been suspended following a complaint about their content by solicitors acting for Dr Michael Ryan.
This is the second time Dr Ryan has tried to silence me (see Still going strong)
Old Grumpy can understand why Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Tiscali would be coy about the real reasons for the disappearance of these pages; after all the Internet is supposed to be the biggest boost to freedom of expression since Gutenberg invented the printing press.
But, as always, the truth fails to match the spin.
In reality, it is the simplest thing in the world to have something that annoys you removed from the Web.
Much simpler than closing down a printing press.
All that is required to censor the Internet is a letter to the ISP claiming that the material is defamatory.
Old Grumpy sympathises with the ISPs who provide an almost cost-free service (£14.99-a-month, including phone calls).
One-hundred-eighty-pound-a-year doesn't go far when faced with the threat of litigation.
The spectre at the feast is the case of Goddard v Demon Internet in which it was held that once an ISP has received a complaint that something on its server is defamatory it becomes liable as the notional publisher.
Of course, whether something is defamatory can only be ultimately decided by the courts.
The statement: "Jeffrey Archer is a perjurer" is potentially defamatory but I am emboldened to make it because I know that should Lord Archer sue me I can produce his criminal record in my defence.
But, as I have said, ISPs cannot afford to conduct extensive investigations into the rights and wrongs of any particular case.
For them discretion must always be the better part of valour.
It is interesting to consider that this is the third time that my website (and my right to freedom of expression) has been interfered with.
On the first occasion it was the County Council's Head of Marketing and Communication, Dai "Spin" Thomas, who did the dastardly deed.
I complained to the Monitoring Officer that this was in breach of the Human Rights Act ; designed to prevent the oppression of ordinary citizens by public bodies, but he gave me the usual brush-off.
Interestingly, I signed up with another ISP and posted the identical "overtly defamatory and factually inaccurate" material, about which Dai Spin had complained, and the council took no action.(see March 5 2001).
The article complained of on that occasion involved the infamous Enfield planning application.
I have some interesting new information on that affair which I hope to publish in the New Year under the title: "A Tale of Two Signatures"
It is, of course, entirely coincidental that Dai Spin, who, judging from his letter to freenetname (March 5 2001), is something of an authority in this field, is the officer who manages Dr Ryan's contract.
Though, on reflection, it wouldn't be the first time he had offered the good doctor the benefit of his legal expertise (see Dai in a spin).

Auntie on the warpath

This week's Western Telegraph carried a thundering editorial on the loss of democracy in Pembrokeshire County Council under the new Cabinet arrangements.
Having, myself, been banging on about this for more than 18 months, I welcome them to the club.
What raised Aunty's blood pressure was the previous Thursday's meeting of the full County Council that lasted for less than half-an-hour as written questions and Notices of Motion were all kicked deep into touch by Maurice Hughes and the ruling clique.
These five-times-a-year meetings of full council are the only opportunity many members get to air the concerns of their constituents.
For them to be curtailed in this fashion is not only undemocratic, it is downright Stalinist.
Cost is another issue.
I calculate that, if all 60 members turned up, on the conservative estimate that the average journey is 20 miles (round trip) travelling expenses, alone, cost the taxpayer £600.
Add to that the liberal quantities of free eats and drinks; traditionally consumed at these pre-Christmas bashes, and I'd be surprised if we have any change out of two grand.
Indeed, I am beginning to wonder if it might not have been cheaper in the long run to have paid these old boys £20,000 each to shuffle off into the sunset.
Then again, it's only a few months to the next election when we will have the opportunity to achieve the same result for free.

Dick who?

On Sunday, I realised that my credit card was missing.
I doubt that it is actually lost (put in a safe place by Old Grumpette, more than likely) but, just to be sure, I rang the company to have it stopped.
After the usual security checks - mother's maiden name and that sort of thing - the chap in the call centre asked when I had used it last.
"On Thursday", I replied, "when I filled up with petrol at Dick Parry's garage."
"Can you tell me the actual name of the filling station?" he asked.
"Dick Parry's at Robeston Wathen." I answered.
"That's not the name I have here." he came back.
I had thought everybody knew Dick Parry, but, it seems, he has yet to make his mark in Madras.


Perfect gifts

A professor in America (where else?) has claimed that buying Christmas presents is economically inefficient because the recipient never gets the bang for the buck that he would get if he spent the money on him/herself.
This sounds like a recycling of Milton Friedman's four-ways-to-spend-money theory.
According to Friedman, you can, in descending order of efficiency:
(a) Spend your own money on yourself, or
(b) Spend your own money on someone else, or
(c) Spend other people's money on other people, or
(4) Spend other people's money on yourself.
The last of these: e.g. the three-fold increases in allowances that County Councillors have awarded themselves since the last election, are clearly the least efficient.
However, to return to the professor's theory about Christmas presents, we can see that he has a point.
Almost by definition, we all know our own economic priorities better than anyone else.
So, £100 spent by me on a present for myself will lead to a greater benefit to me than £100 spent by another.
Critics of the professor point out that his calculus ignores both the benefits accruing to the donor from the act of giving, itself,and those accruing to the donee from receiving a gift from a friend or relation.
The professor has an easy way out of that one.
At Christmas, he and his wife exchange cheques for $100 so that they each have the benefits of giving and receiving, together with the advantage of being able to spend the money on a present of their own choosing.
Old Grumpy has spent many hours thinking about this problem and modesty does not forbid me from claiming to have found the perfect solution.
Every Christmas, I go out and buy Old Grumpette and the offspring a book each.
I always choose something that I want to read.
This might seem terribly selfish but, in terms of economic efficiency, it is the equivalent to a perpetual motion machine.
I have, in effect spent my own money on myself and, additionally, there is the economic benefit of giving and receiving.
And if the recipients actually read the books that is an added bonus.


The power of the press is very great, but not so great as the power of suppress. (Lord Northcliffe)

And a happy Christmas to you all.

Back to home page