Queen Elizabeth pardons Turing (but not the 50,000 other gay men the law unjustly criminalised)

Alan Turing has received a pardon under the "Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen," 61 years after he was "chemically castrated" by court order as punishment for homosexuality. Less than two years of forced hormone treatments drove him to suicide at the age of 41. The pardon came at the request of the government's justice secretary. It's a wonderful vindication of Turing.

But I agree with Turing's biographer Dr Andrew Hodges, who says that the idea of a pardon for Turing establishes the principal that "a sufficiently valuable individual should be above the law which applies to everyone else." In my view, the Queen should have pardoned every man and woman persecuted under the cruel and unjust law that ruined so many lives.

But I'll take Turing. For now. And if Stephen Fry gets his wish and we get Turing on a bank note, I'll frame one and hang it in my office. Read the rest

Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great

This is a Russian beard tax token from the reign of Peter the Great, who set out to modernize Russia by getting everyone to shave. Anyone who wanted to keep a beard had to buy one of these tokens (which bore the legend "the beard is a superfluous burden"). Costs varied by profession -- nobles and officers paid 60 rubles, top merchants paid 100, and so on. Additionally, everyone passing into a city while wearing a beard had to pay a kopek's worth of face-fur-toll.

Update: You can buy replica beard tokens, too.

Beard Tax Token, 1705 (via Neatorama) Read the rest

Austerity Jubilee: unemployed workers tricked into being Jubilee stewards, denied toilets, left to camp in the rain

Long-term unemployed workers say they were bussed to London to act as stewards for the Queen's Jubilee, told they would be paid for the work and cared for while in town. When they arrived, they were told they wouldn't get paid (this was "work experience" not a job), and were made to strip down and change into uniforms in public, pitch tents in the rain, sleep under a bridge, and left without toilet facilities for 24 hours. They were told that if they didn't accept this "training," they wouldn't be considered for work during the Olympics.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday...

A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were "cold and wet and we were told to get our head down [to sleep]". He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor.

The woman said they were woken at 5.30am and supplied with boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. She said: "They had told the ladies we were getting ready in a minibus around the corner and I went to the minibus and they had failed to open it so it was locked.

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Ma'amite is Jubilee Marmite

Even a hard-hearted, card-carrying Republic member like me can't help but smile at Ma'amite, a Jubilee-commemorating rebranding for the tarry brown semi-edible (entirely delicious) substance Marmite.

Limited Edition Ma’amite Read the rest

Prince Charles exercises a secret veto over a wide swath of UK legislation

UK government ministers have been secretly offering Prince Charles a veto over proposed legislation since 2005, under a little-known law that gives the prince the right to silently kill or amend legislation if it might negatively affect his interests. The legislation the prince was consulted upon includes bills on the Olympics, road safety and gambling. No one knows the full extent of these consultations, nor what changes the prince made to the legislation before it went to Parliament. Among the prince's assets are the Duchy of Cornwall, worth £700m, and he received £18m/year in income.

When I took my "Life in the UK" test before becoming a permanent resident, I was struck by the incoherence of the section on the UK's "unwritten constitution," which, to my Canadian eyes, seemed to suggest that the UK didn't really have a constitution, just a mismash of badly articulated principles that have to be tediously litigated and contested every time they collide. Now that I'm a British citizen, it becomes clearer and clearer that this is, indeed, the case.

MPs and peers called for the immediate publication of details about the application of the prince's powers which have fuelled concern over his alleged meddling in British politics. "If princes and paupers are to live as equals in a modern Britain, anyone who enjoys exceptional influence or veto should exercise it with complete transparency," said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives in Cornwall. "The duchy asserts that it is merely a private estate. Most people will be astonished to learn that it appears to have effective powers of veto over the government."

"We should know why he is being asked and the government should publish the answers," said Lord Berkeley, who was last month told to seek Charles' consent on a marine navigation bill.

Read the rest

Facebook celebrates royal wedding by nuking 50 protest groups

What better way to honor a royal wedding than to crack down on free speech? Facebook celebrated the William and Kate wedding by nuking 50 groups that were created to protest the ongoing sweetheart deal in the UK for bankers and companies that get away with paying hardly any tax, and the cuts to services for tax-paying normal people that result from these posh tax-cheats.

Facebook is not suited to the purpose of organizing political causes. It may be an easy place to mobilize people, but between it capricious management and the ease of mining it for social graphs, it is an authoritarian secret policeman's best friend and a censor's bosom buddy.

FACEBOOK PAGES THAT HAVE BEEN DELETED IN THE LAST 12 HOURS: Open Birkbeck, UWE Occupation, Chesterfield Stopthecuts, Camberwell AntiCuts, IVA Womensrevolution, Tower Hamlets Greens, No Cuts, ArtsAgainst Cuts, London Student Assembly, Beat'n Streets, Roscoe 'Manchester' Occupation, Bristol Bookfair, Newcastle Occupation, Socialist Unity, Whospeaks Forus, Ourland FreeLand, Bristol Ukuncut, Teampalestina Shaf, Notts-Uncut Part-of UKUncut, No Quarter Cutthewar, Bootle Labour, Claimants Fightback, Ecosocialists Unite, Comrade George Orwell, Jason Derrick, Anarchista Rebellionist, BigSociety Leeds, Slade Occupation, Anti-Cuts Across Wigan, Firstof Mayband, Don't Break Britain United, Cockneyreject, SWP Cork, Westiminster Trades Council, York Anarchists, Rock War, Sheffield Occupation, Central London SWP, North London Solidarity, Southwark Sos, Save NHS, Rochdale Law Centre, Goldsmiths Fights Back

Of course, it wasn't just Facebook. London's cops were out in force, ensuring that pensioners were prevented from staging harmless street theatre that mocked the royal family.

Political Facebook Groups Deleted On Royal Wedding Day (Thanks, Maggie and Ross! Read the rest