Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Aaaaaargh!: LOL Agrees with Prague Tory, Again

Dr Rupa Huq has a far ranging post, on the perils of Islamic-ness I suppose, right here. Much of it about an amusing (in a haram kind of way) post-Islamist spoof blog on Islamism translated into the day to day.

Most of the discussion however is about Rupa's introduction. This concerns Shahid Malik being searched at an airport (again) and his being shirty about that. The comments are divided.

And, what's this? Oh dear oh dear oh dear. For the second day in a row I find myself agreeing - in part - with the generally reliably wrong Prague Tory.

Yesterday I agreed with him over at Dale's. That MPs of all parties that voted against Communication Allowances should use them without accusations of hypocrisy. Repeal the law later if you want to. But in the meantime don't hobble yourself or punish your constituents by not using the money. That's what the ever-so-principled Dale suggests.

This time it is much more serious. But Prague Tory may be right on this too. I tend to think so. Shahid Malik seems to be throwing a bit of a "Don't you know who I am?" here. As if the feudal rules of the muffin queue in the mother of parliaments should extend to customs clearance. And as if our own practices in Britain - sponsored by his own government, and defended by Malik in previous roles - are so different from these he's experienced in the USA.

Saying "this sort of treatment isn't deserved by anyone" as Rupa does is one thing. Quite a respectable if somethingly flawed argument. Flawed particularly as I'm struggling to find any untoward treatment? Being searched at all? Bring treated roughly, or impolitely, or insulted, or delayed?

Being against any kind of profiling? Ditto, also has some respectable arguments. But saying "this shouldn't be happening to me, as I'm a minister"? Well that frankly is not a respectable argument.

There quickly follows:
"I'm a diplomat", "I'm a spy for the FBI", "I'm a millionaire", "I know that George Bush me", "American Express" and "I'm a VIP me".

And also:
"I said I'm a British minister you red neck thicko, not a Pakistani minister from a peasant background, or French or some other inferior species ... Don't you know who I am?" That special relationship deja vu. All over again. Remember that one?

Most of us that travel a fair bit have at least occasionally been searched at airports and the like. I know I have been. Though sadly not in the USA where the airport security I have seen has often been worse than woeful.

I did a long haul flight a few days after 11 September 2001 for example. Never have so many been searched so many times by so very many. Our plane was even diverted to an airport with extra security for TWO extra searches before the first major leg of the journey. That being done on an all off, all back on basis. Though even then some of the detail was hilariously, hysterically illogical. One for another day. But four or five bag searches and friskings on one journey.

But the major "indignity" came in Melbourne, Australia where airport security asked everyone whether they'd been in "non Metropolitan areas" i.e. not pavements. Those foolish enough to admit same had ALL our footwear, even the pavement only kind, sprayed in powerful agri chemicals.

Fortunately none of our socks were conspicuously holey that day or there might have been a diplomatic incident: "Justice for people who walk in fields within a fortnight before going to Oz!"

There may be an issue with profiling in the USA in this case. Though to be fair they also harrass and obstruct all kinds of groups ... like known peace activists and those crossing from Canada, especially Canucks, and so on.

But the argument: "I'm a minister", "I'm a diplomat", "I know George Bush/Tony Blair", "I'm rich as Croesus", "I'm on the square" etc well, please Shahid, these just don't wash and they shouldn't. Next you'll be wanting an exclusive billionaire's jet for all your trips, you flying lion you!

Prague Tory is thankfully back on form and utterly wrong about the "writetothem" study, in which Shahid Malik was not seen as an outstanding correspondent. This is known to be pretty much completely discredited as anecdotal, manipulable and seriously flawed by systemic failures.


Anonymous said...

For a good two years writetothem had the wrong email address for Shahid Malik.

On the subject of his detention at Dulles - would it have happened to a white government minister out there on government business? I doubt it.

Chris Paul said...

Well I think that last point may be true Mark. I tend to believe it though I don't think there is any science and as I mentioned plenty of white people in the USA do get hassled by customs etc.

But Shahid appears to support profiling in this country as a requirement. If they are profiling in the USA and stopping a higher proportion of south asian, north african and arabic passengers shouldn't he support that too for consistency? And if he is one sample passenger from these groups selected on particular days welcome that as a sign of all equal before the law?

The writetothem thing was and is very poor. The service is potentially good but not the study. I blogged about it at the time.

jailhouselawyer said...

Hi Chris: It's October 31st now where is that picture of Iain Dale wearing the pumpkin as a head?

Anonymous said...

Mark: "For a good two years writetothem had the wrong emailaddress for Shahid Malik" - at least you're not anonymous like the commenter last time, but still just as inaccurate; this statement is totally false.

Chris: "pretty much completely discredited" - only by you, it seems. :-) I've explained in your comments previously, so not much point saying it again.

Matthew, mySociety

jailhouselawyer said...

Chris: Forget it, I found it in your archives and posted it for trick or treat...

Chris Paul said...

Hi Matthew

The problems with the writetothem statistics include the facts that :

(a) a number of MPs continue to report that they do not receive mail from the wtt server and as quite a few have been excluded by yourselves from the rankings this seems to be accepted by your people
(I have no idea about Shahid Malik in this regard so no comment)

(b) MPs can choose whether to promote this method of contact and also to have their associates or supporters use this route rather than their email addresses directly - I have a letterhead in front of me doing just that - and the MP in question is a known wide boy

(c) they can then choose to give such emails greater priority

(d) mischievious green inkers can send lots of communications to targeted MPs by the same method and clearly if they are complete time wasters they will not get answers and this drags down the hit rate

I think overall your services and initiatives are great but as I said before I don't think this survey is your finest hour by any means.

I think suggesting that I am the only one who criticised the ranking table is frankly silly. Even with an emoticon thrown in.

Anonymous said...

The bottom line is that Malik was stopped purely because he is not white.
So it's not acceptable.
Seach everyone or no-one.
That would cut down air travel and save the planet!

Chris Paul said...

OK Miles, that may be your position or you may be joshing, I'm not quite sure. Searching everyone wouldn't stop flights btw, or even bombs.

And I'm not even sure why Malik was stopped. Is he just belly aching because it's twice in fairly quick succession?

I got no parking tickets at all for a month and then I got three in a week with exactly the same carelessness throughout. I was just unlucky (and OK foolish) after riding my luck for too long.

On a purely random basis a regular traveller could easily be stopped twice in a month and then not at all for a couple of years.

But there is a difference here. Shahid is in a government that supports profiling and IMO he therefore ought to accept it when it happens to him and not try to pull rank like some rent a drama queen. This behaviour will not help police here in the UK.

I've found him personally talking about searches being intelligence led not beard led so he is not an uncritical supporter but he nonetheless serves in a government of a country that does run profiling.

I don't really see why he cannot accept this action given that this country also operates profiling.

This USA blogger is not against profiling but thinks this was stupidity. More to come on this one I'll be bound.

Chris Paul said...

Just to add a little more rhetorical fuel to the fire: Senator Edward Kennedy had a lot of trouble in March 2004 (stopped five times in one month) while organic farmer and peacenik Nancy Oden had her problems back in November 2001.

The USA blogosphere is mostly saying the DHS goofed badly, but I have found a few fairly hostile posters and one suggesting Shahid brought it on himself deliberately.

The previous incident was almost 12 months ago in November 2006 btw and that involved serious argey bargey from staff. This time they were it seems polite at least.

My question remains: If you are a minister in a government of a country where there is profiling should you put up with other countries doing it to you with good grace? Even if you are not yourself enthusiastic.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what his opening gambit was "Don't you know who I am?" Have been on the idiot box by the way tonight - More4 News on Islamic recruitment by MI5. What else?

Chris Paul said...

Hi Rupa I've also posted that bloody Shahid from the BBC 2001 you linked to. Is that Britz thing on tomorrow? Presumably that was part of the reason for your appearance? And presumably Dale wasn't available?

And did you decide the climate was or was not just right for loads of muslims to apply to MI5?

Who will be the first muslim Blunt or Philby?

Interesting times we live in.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, Hope I can helpfully respond to your points.

(a): I know of no MP who has said they haven't received messages who is not listed as being so on our site. The one example I presume you are talking about, mentioned on Iain Dale's blog, was also not true. So please do give examples of this "number of MPs" you are talking about so I can investigate, otherwise please stop spreading falsehoods about the site.

(b)&(c): Surely that's an argument for using our site for all your MP correspondence then ;-) I do understand your point here, please don't get me wrong, and there's not much we can do about it obviously, hence all the caveats around the stats page. But that doesn't invalidate the stats themselves, based upon the data we are using. It's not like we ever say "This MP responds to 100% of all correspondence within 2 minutes" anywhere, we only say things like "This MP responds to 98% of correspondence sent via WriteToThem in 2006 within 2-3 weeks". I don't think you can blame us for other people misusing or misquoting our data.

(d): No they can't, we have specific measures in place to prevent that.

"I think suggesting that I am the only one who criticised the ranking table is frankly silly." - well, the only other place I know of is Iain Dale's blog post, and as I said in your previous blog post, "I agree with Chris that stats are likely to attract whingers and people who pick and choose and do bad analysis - but I blame the whingers for that, not the stats. :)"

Yours, Matthew

Anonymous said...

You are right about the inconsistency of saying it's ok to search every Muslim but me.
On that basis it is bloddy hilarious that Shahid was pulled.
But on the wider point I still think if you are gonna search one person you should search everyone.
It may not stop bombs but it would help to stop prejudice (which would, in IMHP, help to stop bombs).

Chris Paul said...


(a) I have NOT said other MPs than those you list aren't getting their mail. Maybe there are, maybe there aren't I don't know. Mark said Shahid Malik wasn't getting his over an extended period. You say specifically that that is untrue. One of you is wrong.

As I said before I don't know. The "number of MPs" are the ones you already identify. There may be others, I really don't know, so I'm not claiming that there are. I'm not spreading falsehoods.

Can you not see that admitting that a group of MPs were not getting mail via your service even at the end of the second full year does mean that it has been flawed?

(b) and (c) OK, but I think it needs still more caveating. It is EASY to manipulate to get yourself positive results on this test - if you set out to do that - whether you are getting a flood or a trickle.

(d) Clearly you cannot say what these measures are that you think solve this problem. I'm glad there are some in place but I cannot comment on how good they may be.

I would be interested in knowing what % of email is going via your service. And if that is typically a single figure, say 5%, and I think it might be from the numbers quoted, how that impacts on the validity of this exercise.

For the moment I do believe that these statistics are being misrepresented by others, and being systematically manipulated too.

For most MPs this IS NOT the primary source of email correspondence or even a significant minority.

This is not clear from the press or blog coverage of your results and even your own statement gives no idea whatsoever of the quantum.

Chris Paul said...

Miles: searching no one doesn't seem like an option. This is a customs matter, a crime matter, and a security matter. Not searching anyone is a non starter.

Searching everyone also - except in the most unusual circumstances e.g. long haul on possible target routes after 9-11 - does not seem a reasonable option with finite resources.

So searching a sample doesn't seem an unreasonable approach. Picking up signs of possible guilt from e.g. drug mules and so on doesn't seem unreasonable either.

Profiling and then structuring samples accordingly is of course far more controversial, and that is what this discussion is all about.

Shahid is not at all happy with profiling to be fair, but it is practised in the country for which he serves as a minister.

Just at the moment there are no comparable senators and congressmen visiting the UK from the USA to test his idea that they'd all be waved through. Apart from T Kennedy.

Anonymous said...


"I have NOT said other MPs than those you list aren't getting their mail." <-- I see the confusion here, as you said "a number of MPs continue to report" and so I assumed that meant that MPs were saying something somewhere of which I am unaware - that was what I was asking for as an example. The ones listed on the stats page as "possibly bad contacts" are decisions made by us, with no input from MPs.

"Can you not see that admitting that a group of MPs were not getting mail via your service even at the end of the second full year does mean that it has been flawed?" <-- Not really, no. For most "possibly bad contact" MPs, it looks like we had good data for the majority of the year, but there was a small portion when we didn't (e.g. for one MP, I had put parliment instead of parliament and didn't spot it for a while - these things happen). And to say it's not always my fault, MPs do things like forget to renew their websites, but still give out that email address for contact for quite some time (thankfully, our systems generally spot that in under a week :) ).

I'd personally be more concerned with the number of messages from constituents over time that aren't delivered because MPs' mailboxes are full, and would happily campaign for their quota to be raised.

"This is not clear from the press or blog coverage of your results" <-- I can only say I am not responsible for press or blog coverage, and I too wish that stats was reported better (Ben Goldacre has a whole blog about that :) ). Our stats page clearly lists the number of messages sent through the service for each MP, and we've never stated that it's the primary source of correspondence for MPs.

One other small thing, just to be clear - you mention email a number times, but a number of MPs are sent messages through the site by fax.