Yes, British Chinese people do exist.

I met an academic from mainland China at this conference in Massachusetts (which has just finished). (This man barely spoke English, and he spent most of the conference talking only to other Mandarin speakers, so I’m not sure why they bothered coming.)

After spending ages trying to explain my work to him, naturally the question was asked as to where I was from. Cambridge, in the UK, of course. But where was I from originally? The UK. And so it continued; it was completely inconceivable to him that there would be ethnically-Chinese people who had never lived in the PRC or Singapore, and who don’t speak Mandarin.

This is by no means the first mainland Chinese person that I’ve met who thought along those lines.

‘Go back to where you came from’, and sometimes ‘Where are you originally from?’, have the implied message ‘you’re not really one of us’. These statements are now commonly recognised as forms of racial harassment. But the implied message ‘you should be one of us, not one of them’ is also based on the idea that a person’s identity is determined by their body features (such as skin colour), and can be just as effective in depriving a person of the rest of their identity.

The Blackwave Party’s Trident policy

The UK Parliament will be voting on Trident renewal tomorrow.

Our Party strongly believes that nuclear weapons are unethical and that possessing nuclear weapons is hypocritical, even (perhaps especially) if done in the name of ‘deterrence’ or ‘self-defence’. On a more practical level, we believe that merely possessing nuclear weapons, without any intent to use them, is dangerous not just to other nations but also to ourselves, because of the possibility of an accidental provocation or other forms of human error. We also believe that the money spent on Trident, estimated at £205bn a year, could be put to much better use, especially in education.

However, we acknowledge that thousands of workers’ jobs depend on the maintenance of the nuclear submarines and its related systems, and that a decommissioning of Trident could lead to ‘tens of thousands of defence engineers’ being put out of work.

Therefore, our Party’s policy is as follows. If elected, we shall scrap Trident. The money saved will be spent on setting up technical colleges throughout the country. These will be used to retrain people to become carpenters and glaziers, with course fees heavily subsidised or even waived. Then, for every worker made redundant by the decommissioning of Trident, I shall personally go and smash all the windows and doors in a town (or village or London borough).

This policy will guarantee full employment, increased spending on education, and a better-trained workforce. The money spent on repairing broken windows and doors would also boost GDP. Any damage or destruction would be instantly repairable, and minimal compared to the damage that an accidentally-triggered nuclear war would cause.

In fact, money could also be spent on training people to become doctors and nurses. This would relieve some of the pressure on the NHS. Again, full employment will be guaranteed by a group of Blackwave Party thugs, whose responsibility will be to break the legs of the people who complain about their windows being smashed up.

We hope that all Members of Parliament, especially Labour MPs who go on about employment, will see the good sense behind our proposals.

Prophecy

I am disappointed at the outcome of the EU referendum, as well as the way the campaign was conducted, for several reasons, which need not be detailed here.

But I have been cheered up, after my attention was drawn to this speech by Nick Clegg in 2014:

That’s what we are fighting for. So what are we fighting against? Imagine again what it will be like in 2020, but this time with the Conservatives in Government on their own. Britain, diminished and divided after a botched attempt to renegotiate our relationship with Europe and a vote to withdraw from the European Union. Companies pulling out of the UK left, right and centre, the markets losing confidence, hiking up our borrowing costs and halting the recovery in its tracks. Workers fearing for their jobs, not just because the companies they work for are plunged into uncertainty but because their bosses can fire them at will, no questions asked. The young and the working poor hit time and time again as George Osborne takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people’s lives. Schools run in the interests of profit for shareholders rather than the life chances of their pupils. A Home Office state snooping on your emails and social media. Opportunity reserved for a few at the top and everyone else told to make do with what they’ve got. A Tory party leadership in hock to their right wing, desperately running after and pandering to UKIP’s ugly nationalism. A Prime Minister trapped between being a poor man’s Margaret Thatcher and a rich man’s Nigel Farage. “Compassionate Conservatism” just a sound bite from a bygone age.

How prescient.

About this website

This is the first post on this website. At the moment, it consists of just a few pages describing me and my work. Occasionally, I will post things about maths, science, computing, Chinese history, or anything else that interests me.

I am starting this blog as part of a migration away from Facebook. There are several reasons for this, many of which are privacy-related. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation has a more detailed list of Facebook’s transgressions. Below I explain some of the main points.

Privacy

When people talk about ‘privacy’ on a social network such as Facebook, they often think about controls that keep co-workers, bosses or students from seeing posts that they make in their personal lives. This is an important aspect of privacy, and while Facebook does not offer complete protection, it has made improvements, and a savvy user can achieve these controls quite easily.

But the true danger to privacy that Facebook presents is that Facebook themselves may read posts or things said in supposedly private conversations between users. The danger is not that Mark Zuckerberg will personally read your conversations and use it for blackmailing or shaming you. Rather, it is your usage patterns, writing style or unconscious behaviour which give away the most interesting information about you. Facebook is also capable of tracking your browsing habits on other sites. Logging out doesn’t protect you from this tracking.

The upshot: Even if you never write a message or post a status explicitly stating anything, and even if you give a false name, age or gender, it is easy to build a detailed profile of you, by linking together all of the information that is collected.

Targeted advertising is not a huge worry for me; I never pay attention to adverts anyway. I am most concerned by the prospect of medical information being collected or deduced: an insurance company could use this to set my premiums, or a prospective employer could discriminate against me based on my medical conditions. (The latter may be illegal, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop them.) This is not an unfounded concern: one of my friends noted that she was getting adverts targeted towards one of her conditions.

Ownership, openness and censorship

Centralised, proprietary systems such as Facebook, but also other networks such as Tumblr or WordPress.com, are not a sensible medium for storing or publishing media such as articles or photos. The danger comes from (a) the possibility that the service could be terminated with little or no warning, causing your media to be lost, and (b) the possibility of the host censoring your media.

I don’t know anything about copyright law or fair use, but the prospect of Facebook using my photos as their own (perhaps selling them off as stock photos, for example) is actually a fairly minor concern for me.

Facebook can censor posts arbitrarily. In 2014, it removed a photo of breastfeeding. In practice, its censorship seems to be motivated not by its own morality, but its desire to keep itself unblocked in countries such as Russia and Turkey. It does this by censoring pages of dissent, essentially to appease the Russian and Turkish governments.

Although there is no evidence of WordPress.com doing the same, one has no guarantee against it.

This website is hosted independently server in Cambridge (but independent of the University Computing Service), and is far less vulnerable to this sort of censorship. If I posted something illegal, libellous or extremely controversial, then the service provider may order the shutting down of this site or the government may order my arrest, but these powers are subject to public oversight, and are harder to abuse.

(Note that WordPress.com refers to the blog hosting service; this website is powered by the software WordPress but is hosted independently.)

Facebook as a walled garden

While Facebook can be useful for sharing things amongst immediate friends, the audience of such posts is in most cases ultimately limited to other users of Facebook. Hence Facebook is not really such a public platform. (Contrast that against this post, for example, which can be read by anybody on the Internet.)

Student unions often use Facebook to make announcements, rather than university email. This means that announcements, including important announcements such as upcoming committee elections, never reach students who are not on Facebook or not connected to the rest of the student body. This is undemocratic, and particularly affects mainland Chinese students.

Epilogue

Writing this has taken much longer than I had expected, and I need to go and do some work now, but hopefully it will be useful for persuading some other people to leave, perhaps reverting to email (or even face-to-face contact!) for communication.