Archive for December, 2012

Where’s my bloody xmas card?

I didn’t send you one. Not because I hate you (I don’t – I love you, especially in that outfit and the way you toss your hair when you laugh), but because I don’t send them to anyone. If I did, I’d have to post them to friends in Thailand, Norway, USA, Australia, India, Russia, Japan and elsewhere, polluting the planet so that twee pictures and shop-bought sentiments can end up in landfills. What a waste of money.

Instead, I donate the money I’d spend on cards and postage to a charity. This year, I’m sending some cash to the Bhopal Medical Appeal which gives free medical care to the people hurt in Bhopal and so shamefully treated by those responsible, Union Carbide (now part of Dow).

To date our Sambhavna Clinic has treated more than 35,000 people. We employ over 60 staff, roughly a third of whom are themselves gas survivors. We carry out valuable studies, inform, educate and train people in gas-affected communities to monitor their health.

…In the Bhopal Medical Appeal we’ don’t ask you’ to help us’ help them’. The Appeal and the Sambhavna Clinic are shared efforts between those of us who are survivors, those of us who run the Clinic and the Appeal and those of us who support the effort with our money and by volunteering our skills or just our enthusiasm.

So that’s your card. Have a merry consumerfest, and a happy new year.

Tediously meta: website tweaks

As a run-up to a responsification of my site (which is about bloody time but I fear may turn into a bit of a redesign, hence putting it off for ages) I made some small tweaks to the site:

  • I added a max-width:800px to the main content div, after a reader with a widescreen monitor complained (there was previously no maximum). This is temporary while I research a better, more readable line length (current consensus seems to be about 66 characters/ 33 ems which seems absurdly short).
  • I removed the now-departed pubdate attribute of the time element in each article’s header, and replaced it with a microdata attribute. Each article is now associated with’s Blogposting type and the publication date marked up <time itemprop="dateCreated" datetime="2012-12-18">Tuesday 18 December 2012</time>.
  • I modified the WordPress behaviour of making the main heading on individual post pages a link to the same page, because (a) it’s daft and (b) a reader complained that (s)he couldn’t copy the title into the clipboard on a phone, because it always activated the link.
  • A screenreader user asked me to add an ARIA live region to the comment preview. I dug around the code for the Live Comment Preview plugin and added it on GitHub (kudos to the author Brad Touesnard who accepted my pull request the same day).

Next steps are to rationalise all the links in the sidebar – who really browses blogs by month? – and make it responsive.

Geoffrey Clark’s redacted Gravesham Council election manifesto

The newspapers are reporting that charming representative of English tolerance Geoffrey Clark has been suspended by UKIP for his manifesto in which he froths at the mouth about “grandmas from coming to the UK from the Punjab to baby sit for their daughters for years, thereafter to become a burden on the NHS after that”, suggests compulsory abortions for women carrying foetuses with Downs syndrome or spina bifida and offers all octogenarians free euthanasia advice.

Mr Clark accurately notes of UKIP that “Many voters still believe we are the BNP in disguise, are extremists, madmen or dotty”, and helpfully dispels any doubt by clarifying “I am clearly not a madman nor dotty”.

I wrote to him yesterday to ask him if this was some kind of elaborate hoax by political enemies and to clarify which of the two disclaimers is accurate: “THE FOLLOWING DOES NOT REFLECT UKIP PARTY POLICY. IT IS ENTIRELY THE PERSONAL OPINIONS OF GEOFFREY CLARK” (i.e., he supports these statements) or “I do not, and UKIP does not, endorse any of these ideas: they are suggestions of matters for the review body to properly consider” (i.e., he doesn’t support them, he’s just tossing them out there in an election manifesto should conversation dry up while he’s doorstepping.)

I received no reply and inexplicably his manifesto is no longer online. Luckily, I saved a copy to my hard-drive. Here’s the full, unedited text.




I am a Kentishman, born in Dartford, a chartered accountant, Protestant married to a Catholic, a baby boomer’ aged 66.

Population, immigration and threats to Britain’s Green Belt are the three linked issues closest to my heart. I am also concerned to improve the party’s image and in particular the candidate selection procedure. I am proactively opposed to Same Sex Marriage, which is an abhorrence.


I am mainly content with our policies but believe we must be very much harder when presenting them to the electorate. We are far too sqeamish about attacking our opponents. We must attack them mercilessly, remorselessly and harshly.



The three main parties are highly vulnerable on this issue. Britain’s population rose by 3.7 million in the 10 years to 2011, according to the 2011 national census. This is desperately bad, pitiable, scary, and a cause for bowing of heads in national shame. UKIP must be much much harder on the political parties that caused it – LibLabCon – and on the countries whose populations are rising rapidly such as Kenya, Nigeria and Mexico. The UK is just as guilty and therefore we must be much harder on ourselves. Population growth and declining quality of life go hand in hand [Malthus, “The Principles of Population”, 1798]. Attack these countries mercilessly on this issue. We must attack them for their wantonness; we must reduce their overseas aid to zero if they do not reduce the rapidly rising trend of population growth. Criticise the Pope and the Catholic Church for their wanton negligence on this subject. In the UK, restrict Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit to the the first two children only, and withdraw those benefits if there is a third and fourth child. The state should not subsidise large families. Educate people to have no more than two children. We must use all fair means to stabilise the UK population at 62 million, including leaving the EU.


The three main parties are highly vulnerable on this issue. Inward migration to the UK should not exceed net emigration in any year. Thus we must leave the EU to achieve this. Deport riff-raff such as the Zimbabwean woman asylum seeker who secretly worked in Smethwick while claiming29,000 of benefits. Allow only one appeal, then straight on the ‘plane… stop making lawyers rich at the tax payer’s expense by allowing endless appeals. Halt all immigration including immigration from the Commonwealth for 10 years. Cut foreign student numbers by 75%. Stop grandmas from coming to the UK from the Punjab to baby sit for their daughters for years, thereafter to become a burden on the NHS after that. Introduce a ‘burden on the state’ test in which all visitors must have a return ticket and sufficient funds to maintain themselves during their stay. End one year visas. Re-introduce the Alien status and the need for them to report to a police station every 3 months or risk being deported. Refuse asylum to asylum seekers if they had a nearer safe country to flee to. For example, a Sudanese fleeing to Britain should flee to Egypt or Ethiopia rather than to Britain. Send asylum seekers on to those countries without appeal. Asylum should be refused and he/she should be returned there. Return them to their home country if they fail this test. Eject all asylum seekers when their home country is deemed safe or if any part of it is deemed safe, regardless of whether they have married here or have children here. Forbid EU citizens who are convicted criminals from coming here. Deport them if they have convictions that are serious.


The three main parties are vulnerable on this issue, linked as it is to net immigration from the EU of 250,000 annually. The Green Party are vulnerable on parts of this issue. Politicians in the three failed main parties really don’t care about the Green Belt. If they cared seriously about the Green Belt in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, they could never support the High Speed Rail Link planned to go through those counties, nor an estuary airport, nor wind farms, nor make exemptions from planning rules to allow building on the Green Belt. But they support all of these severe attacks on the Green Belt – all of them devastate the peace of the countryside. They support them for confused reasons: an expansion of construction activity will provide jobs’ (but for Slovaks and Poles); We need to cut 40 minutes off the journey to Birmingham’ (while telling us that we should travel more by bike); We only make exemptions from building regulations for social housing and affordable housing because it’s much cheaper to build social housing on the Green Belt’ (the point of the Green Belt is that it’s not supposed to be built on at all, except for agriculture); Wind farms provide an alternative source of green energy’ (extremely inefficiently, with huge subsidies that are not affordable). UKIP must seize these traitors by the throat, metaphorically speaking of course, lambast and fight mercilessly anyone who wants to build on the Green Belt whoever they may be, whether Government, farmers, housing associations like Moat Housing (“We build on the Green Belt because it’s a lot cheaper” – the scumbags!) calling them swines, speculators and traitors to the peace of the countryside. Attack them mercilessly on this issue. Offer support to local action groups who are fighting plans to build on the Green Belt. Invest money in setting up such groups where they don’t exist. Become associated closely with this issue. Start marches, make banners. March with me to picket Moat Housing’s two head offices in December 2012, bearing placards reading “HAPPY CHRISTMAS MOAT, GREEN BELT DESTROYERS”. If you want to join me, contact me on


The three main parties are vulnerable on this issue. They all love the UN. The UN desperately needs reform. The three main failed parties should stop supporting Israel so much. Recognise the reality that Israel is as much a threat to world peace as Iran perhaps more so. Israel has ignored every UN resolution ever passed that told Israel to stop doing something, such as building settlements in occupied territory. Iran is generally shifty and not to be trusted. The UN should eject both Israel and Iran from the UN. But of course they won’t, because life is very comfortable at the UN, and also ejecting countries may set a rather uncomfortable precedent affecting themselves. Therefore, reconstitute the UN. Attack the other parties mercilessly on this issue. We ourselves are vulnerable on this issue. We must change course.


The three main parties are extremely vulnerable on this issue, which will become a major issue when it nears a Parliamentary vote. We may secure the first defections of MPs to UKIP on this issue. Mr Cameron may be unseated by his own MPs as a result of pushing ahead with this unwanted measure. All three failed main party leaders – the LibLabCon – are in favour of it. The Greens are very much in favour of it, as many of them live in Brighton. I oppose Same Sex Marriage, which is an aberration, an attack on the Christian church and on other religions, and our culture, and is completely unnecessary. It is so divisive. Boris Johnson wants to push ahead even faster with it. UKIP must be much harder on the “Achilles heels of other parties such as this issue, making them even bigger issues. It is a major missed opportunity otherwise.

My position on Same Sex Marriage is:
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I am tolerant of gay people. I support civil partnership. But gay marriage is a step way too far. It is an aberration. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are aberrant to support it and traitorous to our nation to legislate for it. It is an incredibly divisive step. We are not permitted a referendum on the matter “because we operate through Parliament”. Because the Bill to legalise same sex marriage will be a free vote and will pass overwhelmingly despite the nation’s overwhelming opposition to it, it will render Parliament undemocratic and unrepresentative of the British people. This will undermine completely the already shaky esteem in which we hold our politicians. This will be a calamity for our nation’s democracy. Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband all need to be toppled from their posts to prevent this treachery to the British people, its customs, traditions, and religions.

We must draw a line in the sand and say “This line must not be crossed”. Write to your MPs and ask them to topple the three main party leaders from their posts if they pursue this divisive measure. We must not let these three leaders sleep at night over this treachery. We must organise a march on Parliament about it. Who will join me on the march?


The three main parties are extremely vulnerable on this issue, as are the Greens. If a Christian church becomes a mosque or a Sikh temple, as has often happened, it is absurd to say – as the 3 failed main parties do say – that this makes no difference to our culture. On the contrary, it completely changes the tone of the area, causes an influx of adherents to those faiths, and causes white flight. White flight has begun in earnest. We must ban the burkha as France has done, as this is a cultural affront to the native population. We must take care not to become a minority in our own country, as is the case in London already, where over 50% of the population is born outside the UK, including 100,000 Egyptians and 100,000 Brazilians. Will the failed 4 failed parties who read these facts finally admit that our native culture is being subsumed in another culture or, even worse, swamped? You can bet your bottom dollar that they won’t. They will persist in their lie, and thus will continue to dupe the electorate and betray our country for longer. We should not be squeamish about this matter, nor be furtive about going on the attack. We must attack them remorselessly over it. It is a major missed opportunity otherwise.

I wrote this poem about the problem:



Do you see?

It’s so much like the end of Rome

With all the Roman legions returning home

Permitting Britannia to burn, decay, alone.

But other foreign legions are returning,

Bringing a kind of cancer in their wake;

Cancer not of Britain’s doing, but one that Britons make.

Our present leaders are elected to preside

Over our ancient green and pleasant land

Just to give it all away, to an alien hand.

So this cancer slowly spreads all around us.

Then our empire crashes, near unnoticed.

Must we hand it to the strangers without protest?

Will our children hate us for an absent deed?

The treachery of which is so apparent?

With marriage killed, what deed is more abhorrent?

First freedom, then glory, and when that fails,

Wealth, vice, corruption. Barbarism at last!

Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.

So do we wait, or do we act?

We must strike out now, and turn the tide,

There is very little more time to wait,

Else children will have for us the guilty, nought but hate.”

By Geoffrey Clark 17.11.12

though George Gordon Byron helped with verse 6


The three main parties are extremely vulnerable on this issue, as are the Greens. There are so many examples of Christians being pushed onto the back foot and being disadvantaged in favour of other religions; punished for wearing crucifixes while it’s OK to wear the burkha. Keep Sunday special. Defend the freedom of religion, other than wearing the burkha.


Here are some passages from the Koran [Penguin Classics version]:-

WOMEN: 4:24

You are forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves.

WOMEN: 4:25

If any one of you cannot afford to marry a free believing woman, let him marry a slave-girl who is a believer.

WOMEN: 4:34

Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior over the others and because they spend their wealth to maintain them.

What sensible person believes that stupidity today? Anyone who does believe it today must be a scumbag and must be told so. Stop being squeamish about telling scumbags that they are scumbags, just because they happen to be Muslim scumbags.

The Koran is 1300 years old and is in desperate need of updating so men cease to abuse it. You will doubtless agree that the Koran needs to address women as well as men, and a lot of updating is needed. How can such a book be respected quite aside from being followed? UKIP has a solution. The leaders of the main faiths should get together in 2013 and agree to update all their holy books by 2020 then re-issue them as appropriate for the world in which we live today, not for the world of hundreds of years ago. Then, women were subservient and it was “sort of OK” to have slaves. Today it is unconscionable behaviour.

[Slavery still exists today among Muslims, e.g. in Mauretania, but that issue must await more research]


Each of us will be a minority at some time or another: for example, when we are on holiday in a strange country. But in that instance we brush up on that country’s culture and take care not to offend anyone there. But we British don’t demand that others do that here. We tend to respect their culture, and allow them to deviate far from ours, and then tolerate that deviation even if it is an irritant. I am not happy about that, and oppose that approach. In the 1960’s there was talk of integration of minorities into the British culture, and governments strove to achieve it, but that aim seems to have been abandoned in favour of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism can cause separation, ghettoes, erect imaginary or even real walls, and serious divisions occur, whereupon tensions rise, all quite needlessly. An even worse danger lurks. When a minority perceives that it is in the unique position of being free from criticism, for example travellers tresspassing on land (using the race card), and homosexuals demanding to stay in a B & B against the wishes of the owners (invoking the Equalities Act), there is a serious risk that they will abuse their privileged position to the detriment of the majority. It can cause real hatreds to build, which produced the London bombings of 2005. Then you have the beginnings of a tyrranny of the minorities against the majority, a supreme unfairness, whereupon very serious strife will likely ensue. We must avoid this calamity occurring by talking of integration again, and achieving it, and cease the encouragement of multiculturalism. In my opinion the tyrrany of the minorities has begun, as evidenced by the travellers at Vale Farm in Essex, and by the homosexual couple taking the B & B owners to court and winning the case. Their so-called human rights have led to actual human wrongs, and therefore those abominable rights have to be reversed, as they constitute a monstrous attack on the majority. Christians have been attacked in Sudan, Nigeria and Indonesia. Churches are not allowed to be built in Saudi Arabia, China, and some other countries, whereas we in the UK allow any religious building to be built here. In order better to protect minorities worldwide, we should encourage all religions to update their respective holy books. The King James Bible is 400 years old, the Koran 1300 years old. In the latter, women are presented very clearly as being the property of men, to be beaten if disobedient [WOMEN: 4 : 34]. The Torah is ancient and the Sikh holy book over 100 years old. These books were not written for today’s world. Each of these gives some offence to the adherents of the others.
To summarise, we must defend minorities while taking great care to ensure the majority is not disadvantaged.


The NHS should remain free to all British citizens at the point of delivery. Non-British persons should be required to take out compulsory health insurance cover that includes both health care and repatriation to their home country in the event of serious illness. Many jurisdictions insist on this insurance cover, but the UK does not. To compensate, abolish national insurance (which in any case is a tax on jobs) and combine it with income tax. Visitors including tourists must be refused entry to the UK without health and repatriation insurance (apart from EU citizens currently, which is a concession that will change after we leave the EU). A serious national debate and a government review are required urgently regarding service levels in the NHS, as the NHS risks becoming unaffordable in the future. The review should embrace all avenues for rendering the NHS more cost effective and affordable. Such matters might include the following aspects: medical treatment for those over 80 years of age, which is disproportionately costly to the NHS; (the cost of treatment for the often multiple ailments of the very elderly is growing very fast); identifying what services can and can no longer be afforded by the NHS. If the NHS in the future is rendered unaffordable, what shall be cut? It’s no good saying we must cut the national debt, and then keep increasing expenditure, as we are doing. The review might also include: legalising euthanasia and giving free euthanasia advice to all folk over 80 years of age, and indeed to all others. Hold a national referendum about these pressing matters. If we don’t make these changes, the national debt will soar and the NHS will eventually collapse – two calamities instead of only one. Other items for review: ceasing all free IVF treatment on the NHS; cutting unecessary waste e.g the destruction of drugs in care homes when residents move on to the next care home or the next world; the pregnancy abortion time limit; compulsory abortion when the foetus is detected as having Downs, Spina Bifida or similar syndrome which, if it is born, could render the child a burden on the state as well as on the family. CLARIFICATION TO AVOID CONFUSION AND MISREPRESENTATION: I do not, and UKIP does not, endorse any of these ideas: they are suggestions of matters for the review body to properly consider in light of the stated desire of all political parties to reduce the national debt.


We should indulge in unashamed elitism. Promote the cleverest British students. Introduce grammar schools everywhere. Senior schools should be allowed to specialise more and focus more. We should maintain the national education budget but not increase it as a proportion of GDP or national expenditure. Instead, we should encourage all people to educate themselves by using libraries and the Internet more and by making education courses tax deductible. Allow head teachers to exclude any pupil if the Chair of Governors supports the action. Defend head teachers by charging10 to complainants to make a written complaint, as each complaint takes half a week – a huge distraction. Educate parents to support the school staff as much as they support their children. Make parenting courses tax deductible. Eliminate bogus colleges. Reduce foreign students by 75%. Cease the 5 year “right to stay” concession for foreign students – they must go back to their home country.


Some of the above aims will never be achieved unless we leave the EU.


Campaign to leave the EU. Force an in-out referendum. Win it. Leave the EU, then participate in an economic and cultural renaissance of our once great nation. The EE is too weak knee’d – as is our own government – to criticise China for invading Tibet, and destroying the Tibetan people’s freedom, language, currency and culture. Why were the Jews allowed to have their own homeland and allowed to settle in land occupied and stolen from Arabs, yet the Tibetans cannot have their homeland in their own territory? What is the EU doing about ending Chinese imperialism and colonialism? Nothing. What is the UK doing about it? Nothing.



The three main parties are vulnerable on this aspect. The Coalition government is unpopular. It is mid-term and voters are prepared to give other parties a chance. UKIP is growing in popularity. UKIP must be fearless in calling other parties TRAITORS TO BRITAIN which on several fronts they are. Implement a much more robust candidate selection process. Party leaders must not serve on the Candidate Selection Committee and must be forbidden ever to discuss candidate selection with members of that committee. Fight every seat but focus on, and concentrate resources including money on, the most winnable seats, making sure that they have excellent candidates. Hire a researcher to identify winnable seats. Party leaders should fight more parliamentary bye-elections, provided nof course that they have been properly approved then selected as candidates. Print a UKIP membership form on the reverse of 50% of all A4 election leaflets delivered to houses… every newsletter to houses to contain one within it … every UKIP member’s newsletter to contain tow loose ones within it, with a request to the member to hand them out or leave them on bus or train seats.


Any organisation’s image is always improvable, and in my opinion our party’s image is much improvable. Many voters still believe we are the BNP in disguise, are extremists, madmen or dotty. Although they don’t tell me this to my face when I campaign (perhaps because I am clearly not a madman nor dotty) I sincerely believe that many are thinking it. I myself have been described in a Tory leaflet as being an extremist, which I certainly am not. I am sometimes told by voters that they will be wasting their vote. I feel that they tend to believe what the other parties say, more than what we say. Thus we are still not sufficiently trusted. If this is true, then this is our Achilles Heel; we are on the back foot in terms of image and so we have to work much harder on this, invest in this, and train our candidates in how to counter this. It will cost money. This is just one reason why I believe our candidate selection process has to be made much more robust.

In our literature we often state the obvious, repeat what we have said many times before (£55 million spent on the EU daily, which fact may well be true but it gets tiresome for readers to keep on reading it, and we often fail to inspire. Seize one local issue of great import, where the other parties are vulnerable on it, and keep on hammering it home. We should combine hardness of attack and forthrightness on the one hand, with the use of beautiful, clever, inspirational language on the other, rarely using aggressive intolerant language, although such language is very occasionally necessary. All facts must be well evidenced by, for example, displaying photocopies of newspaper headlines or whole articles not just giving quotes from them, and also not just from the Express (bless that newspaper). We must provide very high quality evidence that supports what we are saying and link what we are saying to our country’s problems. Electoral support will then rise. My personal technique when campaigning is to invoke risk management, and to produce a risk register, be it national or local, and issue it. In it state what the precise risk is of not following UKIP policy on this or that matter … a scare tactic, yes, but why not?

When what we say is better evidenced, and more compelling, and beautifully written, voters will sit up and take note and begin to believe that what we say is sensible and relates to the nation’s problems then they will vote for us.




Nigel Farage, Chris Adams, Ray Finch and Sanya Thandi will tell you what a decent fellow I am, and how devoted I have been, and very much still am today, to UKIP.


Updated 17.11.12

The History of the Future [population growth]
Juliet Gardiner continues her History of the Future with a look at the predictions of the clergyman and economist, Thomas Robert Malthus.
This late-18th century vision of the future came from an urgent problem Malthus identified, which threatened the future of the masses. The problem, as he saw it, was that population growth would outstrip man’s ability to feed himself. Unless population was controlled by man, famine and disaster would inevitably result.
Malthus developed this theory in 1798 in his essay The Principle of Population. He was a man of God – the curate in a parish in rural Surrey from where he was well-placed to notice that he was Christening more babies than the number of people he was burying, and became alarmed about levels of rural poverty on his doorstep. To modern ears his predictions seem startlingly prescient as we struggle with population explosion in many parts of the world, and fret about our ability to feed ourselves with finite resources, debating the merits of GM crops.
Juliet Gardiner digs down into the predictions to discover how the future looked from where Malthus stood. Where did his dark vision about future population come from in a society which had not yet conducted a census? Juliet speaks to Donald Winch and Niall O’Flaherty and visits the Surrey parish where Malthus preached, Christened and buried the dead.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4

(Last Updated on 2 May 2014)

Why I changed my mind about the <main> element

Congratulations to The Mighty Steve Faulkner, whose proposal for an HTML5 <main> element was published yesterday by the W3C. I’m delighted to see one of the code examples features “The Lawson Academy”. Academy of what is left unknown.

@stommepoes asked me why I now support the introduction of <main> when previously I thought it unnecessary. So here’s why.

It’s always seemed to me to be a good plan to make elements out of common landmark patterns like navigation, footers, banners/ headers and the like. While the Scooby Doo algorithm mostly works to identify where main content begins, I was unsure that it always would, and most authors found the absence of a <main> element anomalous. Ease of authoring matters: the priority of constituencies in the HTML5 Design Principles says

In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity.

The Mighty Steve Faulkner is a very persuasive man – a kind of aussie Derren Brown of accessibility. He produced lots of data that suggested that people use <div id=”main”> (or similar names) properly.

Ian Hickson consistently claimed that such an element wasn’t necessary because the main content can be algorithmically determined so there’s no need to add extra cruft to the language – an argument which I’ve grown to consider “theoretical purity” and thus bottom of the heap in the priority of constituencies.

But, perhaps ironically, it was Ian Hickson who finally swayed me. When researching microdata and RDFa Lite, I noticed that a table comparing RDFa Lite and microdata said that microdata’s itemscope attribute is “not needed” in RDFa. More pertinently, it’s not really needed in HTML5 microdata, either. As Matt Wilcox writes

itemscope is utterly pointless. The scope of the property is /always/ the scope of the tag to which it is applied. Making this extremely verbose and rather confusing.

The reason is there is that it makes it easier for authors. Hixie did user-testing of (seven) markup authors and wrote

I was really surprised by the itemscope/itemtype thing helping people, but it was a really stark result if I recall correctly. Originally I’d designed it with just one attribute “item, whose value was optional but if present was the type. Confusion abounded in the usability lab when we tested that variant. We had a variant with the attributes split more or less like it is now, and the participants in the study were far more comfortable with that. One of the people who was tested on my original design saw the split variant near the end of their session, and it was like they had an epiphany.

It was quite an educational experience for me as a language designer. Things that I thought were obvious (URLs are too long and unwieldy to be used everywhere, terse markup is better than verbose redundant markup) were repeatedly shown to be false. It really changed how I design languages.

If it’s worth adding a redundant attribute to the language for something as comparatively esoteric as adding micro-semantics, it seems wrong to refuse to add an element that mirrors what vastly more authors actually write, and which would make the Web more accessible to those who need extra help.

And that’s why I support the addition of a <main> element to HTML5.

I’d be grateful if no-one told my wife or kids that I was wrong previously; they’re convinced I’m perfect.

Addendum 23 December: A few people have asked whether <main> would need an attribute role=main too. I don’t believe so; according to Steve Faulkner, test builds of Firefox and WebKit already map <main> to the ARIA role, so no need to duplicate. Thus, if the assistive technology already supports ARIA role=main, it Just Works™ without the explicit role.

(Last Updated on 5 January 2013)

English words that also mean their opposite

English is a funny old language. Not content with having the widest vocabulary of any language, we confuse Johnny Foreigner further by having some words with contradictory meanings.

The canonical example is the verb “to cleave”, which can mean “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly” as in “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife”. But it can also mean “to split apart”, as in the modern English “cloven hoof”.

Another example is the adjective “quite”. “Quite nice” damns with faint praise, whereas “it was quite beautiful!” intensifies just how beautiful the speaker believes the object to be (although this latter use is probably archaic or posh).

[Added 12 Jan 2013: A tweet from Dan Zambonini reveals that the official term for words that also mean their opposite is “auto-antonym” and there are loads of them.]

A similar contradiction happens with some words which are apparently synonyms. If I tell my wife after a mere 16 hours of choosing dresses and applying cosmetics that “you look a vision”, I am correct. If I tell her “you look a sight”, I’m in trouble. Foreign gentlemen courting English women may wish to ensure they aren’t being misunderstood by pre-emptively answering the inevitable “does my bum look big in this?” appropriately: “You look a vision, and in that frock your bum doesn’t look big at all. Honestly.” is a sure-fire way to an idyllic evening.

Other accidental antonyms can occur by use or omission of the definite article. For example, if Mr Darcy says “Miss Bennet, this chicken tikka masala that you have prepared is bollocks”, he is likely to receive a swift kick in his northanger abbies, because it suggests that the food is substandard (“bollocks” means “testicles”). However, were he to exclaim “Miss Bennet, this chicken tikka masala that you have prepared is the bollocks” (note the definite article, my emphasis), he’s practically guaranteed a bout of boudoir moist cotillion, because “the bollocks” is short for “the dog’s bollocks”, which is approbation, derived from “the mutt’s nuts”, a jovial synonym for “cat’s whiskers” (or “bee’s knees”) — high praise indeed.

(Last Updated on 17 January 2013)

Reading List

A bumper reading list for those long holidays (and because I’ve been away conferencing for a few weeks and need to spurt out my backlog).



Conference videos


  • Cry-Baby of the Year – a list of ten previous winners of Cry-Baby of the Week who have been shortlisted by me as nominees for Cry-Baby of the Year
  • Dalkey Archive Press seeks unpaid interns -” Any of the following will be grounds for immediate dismissal during the probationary period: coming in late or leaving early without prior permission; being unavailable at night or on the weekends; failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes; violating company policies. DO NOT APPLY if you have a work history containing any of the above.”

And finally, here’s Kim Wilde, pissed on a train after the Magic FM Xmas party, singing “Kids in America” and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree”.

Developer’s guide to WebAIM screenreader survey

For the last four years, those excellent people at WebAIM have surveyed screenreader users about the kit and setup they use. For some reason, I didn’t see this when it came out in May.

Here’s a brief summary of the results to help web developers who care about accessibility (that is, professional-standard web developers). I urge you to read the full report when you have 30 minutes to spare.

  • The vast majority of screenreader users are on Windows (87%). The runners up are Mac (8.5%) and iOS (3.4%).
  • The free, open-source screenreader NVDA “saw continued increase in usage, up to 13.7% from 2.9% in 2009 and 8.6% in 2010 (a nearly 500% increase in just 2.5 years)”. You can use NVDA to test your sites and maybe send them a donation; it literally is two blind guys in Australia who maintain it.
  • The vast majority of respondents (83%) updated their primary screen reader within the previous year. Users of free screenreaders were unsurprisingly more likely to upgrade than paid screenreader users.
  • Mobile screen reader usage increased 600% in just over 3 years (only 12% reported using a mobile screen reader in January 2009). 58% were on iOS devices, 20% on Nokia, 7.9% on Android.
  • 98.6% of users had JavaScript enabled.
  • Internet Explorer accounts for 67.5% of the browser share among respondents – IE8 was 34%, IE9+ was 29.5%. Firefox was the runner-up at 20%. “No-one uses IE” is the same as saying “We don’t care about disabled customers”.
  • ARIA landmarks (banner, contentinfo, main, navigation etc) were used “whenever they are present” by 24.6%, “often” by 15.8%, “never” by 15.6%. This is one reason for my changing my mind to support a proposed <main> element in HTML5.
  • 60.8% said navigating through page headings was their primary method find information on a lengthy web page. Heading structures are therefore very important. See this blind developer’s short video Importance of HTML Headings for Accessibility for more.
  • The most problematic areas for screenreader users (most frustrating first) are:
    1. The presence of inaccessible Flash content
    2. CAPTCHA – images presenting text used to verify that you are a human user
    3. Ambiguous links. Lose those “read more” and “click here” links, people! This isn’t a new revelation!
    4. Images with missing or improper descriptions (alt text)
    5. Screens or parts of screens that change unexpectedly. (Perhaps judicious use of ARIA Live Regions could alleviate this?)

I want to re-iterate my thanks to Jared Smith and the WebAIM people for collecting, collating and publishing this information.

On the 2011 census

Yesterday, some results from our once-a-decade survey were published. As ever, the times they are a-changin’, and mad people are a-frothin’.

According to the figures,

In 2011 13 per cent (7.5 million) of usual residents of England and Wales were born outside the UK; in 2001 this was 9 per cent (4.6 million).

What that means isn’t completely clear-cut. My household has 4 people. I was born in Yemen, of British parents on government business. My wife was born in Thailand, as was our daughter (who has dual nationality). Of the four of us, only our son was born in the UK, yet he’s mixed-race. I’m the only one of the four who is “white British”, yet was not born here.

Poland showed by far the largest percentage increase in the top ten countries of birth, with a nine-fold rise over the last decade and following its accession to the EU in 2004.

It’s got to be hard to be a nutty racist these days. What do you do about the Poles, with their polite, hard-working, church-going lifestyle? It’s even hard to spot them in the street.

In fact, the knuckle-draggers should be delighted by the influx of Poles, given that the number of people identifying as christians has decreased from 72% to 59% in ten years, while the number of muslims has increased from 3% to 5%. In the little-Englander worldview, all muslims have dozens of children because they want to take over the world. Luckily, Poles are catholic and therefore have loads of children, too. Better a white catholic UK than a brown muslim UK, eh?

Of course, that’s not how it will play out. The really interesting statistic is the 25% of people who have “no religion”. That doesn’t mean that 25% of the population is rational, of course; many with no religion mutter that they are “spiritual” and believe in reiki, homeopathy, astrology or some other nonsense.

In an increasingly “secular world” different religions gang together to protect themselves. That’s why we see junkets by unelected gay-bashing muslim Tory Sayeeda Warsi to the woman-hating paedo-protecting Vatican which “welcome[d] Lady Warsi’s comments on ‘intolerant secularisation'”:

By asserting that “for centuries, Christianity in Europe has been inspiring, motivating, strengthening and improving our societies”, Warsi echoes Benedict’s claim that religion is an ally of freedom and an enemy of tyranny.

Expect to see dozens of “inter-faith” working groups of strange (but heterosexual) bedfellows spring up in the next decade to lament our godlessness and hector us into allowing them to tell us what to think, who to love, who to marry and where we can do it.

Expect their efforts to fail, and see the “no religion” numbers grow further in 2021.

How to eat vegan in Thailand

For some reason, I’ve talked about this to a few people lately, even though I’m no longer a veggie and was never a vegan (my farts are bad enough as it is).

Anyway, most Thais are buddhist, but love eating meat and seasoning otherwise veg dishes with nam plaa (fish sauce), which is the local equivalent of salt. Their perhaps-spurious rationale is that they didn’t actually kill the animal, and not eating it would be a waste. I regard this as playing somewhat fast-and-loose with the conventional theories of supply and demand, but I am not an economist.

At some point, most Thai people will become extra-buddhist for buddhist lent, or joining the monkhood to make merit for a dead parent or some such (assuming they’re not in the small muslim or christian minorities). So every Thai person understands the idea of vegan food. This will always be respected; to give meat to a monk or someone who has requested “religious” food would be a grievous sin.

The magic words to unlock a world of vegan cuisine in Thailand are “Pom [if you’re male]/ Dee-chan [female] kin ahaarn jair”. “Jair” is the key; it rhymes with “air” but has a slightly shorter vowel.

Any meaty-looking stuff in your resulting meal will be tofu (the smegma of Beelzebub, in my opinion) or mushroom. Soy sauce will be used for seasoning instead of fish sauce. If you want to avoid MSG, say “mai sai churot”. “Spicy” is “pet”, not spicy is “mai pet”. If you eat eggs, say “kin kai dai” [eat egg can].

So “I don’t eat meat, I eat eggs, no MSG, not spicy” is Pom/ Dee-chan [M/F] kin aharn jair. Kin kai dai. Mai sai churot, mai pet.”

There you are. Job’s a good ‘un. Of course, watch out for refreshing beers, most of which are clarified with isinglass like everywhere else in the world (and which would be strictly off-limits to monks, anyway).

(Last Updated on 28 April 2016)

Please and Thank you

When my wife and I came to the UK from Thailand, she asked me why English people say “please” and “thank you” so often. This happened after a bus ride. I got on and asked for “two to Birmingham please”. The driver replied, “five pounds please”. I gave him the money, and he said “thank you”. I took the tickets and said “thank you”. On leaving the bus, I said “thank you, driver”.

My wife asked me why there were so many “please”s and “thank you”s. After all, she explained, he had only done his job; there was no service performed above his usual day-to-day tasks.

In Thai, there is an equivalent of “thank you”, but there isn’t a similar way to say “please”. You can say “khor” as in “khor beer song khwat” (“may [I have] two bottles [of] beer”) but you can also easily say “khor hai aroi” which translates as “may [it] give deliciousness” (or “bon appetit”). To ask for something vehemently needs “karuna”, which is the Sanskrit word for “compassion” or “mercy”; that is, “I beg you”, which is stronger than English social “please”.

I’ve noticed that French and Turkish speakers say “please” and “thank you” regularly (those are the only other languages I speak), whereas Americans seem not to do so; they’re more like Thai speakers and only seem to use it when requesting or acknowledging something beyond what could generally be expected of the person they’re talking to, and not as absolutely necessary in general transactions. That is, in the US, you can say “I want a beer” rather than “a beer, please” and it’s still considered perfectly polite. My Mum woud have given me a clip around the ear if I didn’t say “please” (like saying “what?” which is polite in the USA but horribly rude in British English).

It seems to me that English in England is unnecessarily polite — but I couldn’t bring myself not to follow the rules. Do you say “please” and “thank you” so regularly in your language or culture?