Backstop

I was fixing the links on my posts yesterday. My “politics” page had a link on it which claimed to be a link to a post on Theresa May’s deal. In fact, the post was a critique of May herself, and didn’t really touch on the deal. So I just wanted something in writing which reported my thoughts. They’ve fleshed out a bit since I first became aware of the deal, but only really because the guts of the deal took time to filter out.

I would have gone with the deal. To put it into context, though, I’d have been happy with a very soft Brexit. The key issues for me were around governance, not day-to-day issues. A lot of things done by the EU have been positive. I do think that the agreement left a lot of things unsaid, though. But they could be discussed later.

One of the things that it did say, and something which has proved very contentious since, was about Northern Ireland. Again, bear in mind that my version of Brexit would have seen the UK very much in harmony with the EU, so the Irish border would never have been an issue, but…

I think you have a couple of over-riding concerns there, but only really a couple.

Primarily, there is a border there between the UK and the EU. Rules, regulations, standards even, must be assumed to diverge over time. Also, in respect of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that there would be freedom of movement across that border.

On Day #1, there is no problem, but, as I say, we have to allow for things to diverge (or for politicians to want some divergence to happen, at any rate.

So, we assume divergence. In the future, things could be so different between us that either the EU or the UK might want to put checks in place, to ensure that everything coming in is up-to-scratch. Both might have different rates of duty, so there might need to be some form-filling. Rather like VAT currently.

The solution? Well, the UK have said that “technology will sort it”. The problem is that this is all a bit untested. In any case, nobody has taken steps to introduce this technology yet, so even if it were possible, people might have their work cut out. As I say, on Day #1 is won’t matter, nut on Day #2, it might.

So the EU have raised the question “what if your untested solution doesn’t work?” And they have proposed the solution known as the “Irish Backstop”. The plan is basically that, in the absence of a working solution, the UK keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the Republic, so everything remains homogeneous. I mean, we can handle things like different tax rates, because that happens now. But, there is no duty now, so what if you need to cater for duties? And, what if you want to check goods (or people) as they arrive in your bloc?

Their proposal seems reasonable enough, but at that point, politics takes over. Northern Ireland’s unionists say “well, we can’t have NI being treated any differently to the rest of the UK”. That’s their main mantra. Conservatives are unionists also, although they are mostly English, so their fervour may be diluted. But, in principle, they sympathise. The Democratic Unionist Party is also propping up the Conservative government at the moment, so that adds an extra dynamic.

So, the implication here is that, if the EU want Northern Ireland to remain aligned, then that means that the whole of the UK must remain aligned. To some people, that’s not Brexit (although exactly what Brexit was, was never defined). For me, I have no problem with alignment, in any case neither do I have a problem that Northern Ireland is treated differently, to me the Irish Sea seems an ideal place to perform checks, if they ever need to happen. but to some people, this is a showstopper. Dare I say that not wanting to perform checks might be driven by cost as much as it is by principles? The UK is, after all, in quite a safe position as regards the standards of goods coming in from the EU – you wouldn’t really expect 27 member states to change direction because 1 member state decides to leave. But there are very real fears about the relationship going the other way, because who knows how UK politicians see our future?

The critical thing is that this was not just the EU’s suggestion, but it made it into the deal that Theresa May agreed with the EU and then asked the British parliament to approve. They rejected it, was it three times?

So, that’s it in a nutshell, and the reason why some people are up in arms against the whole agreement (or should I say, disagreement?).

There is also the side-issue raised during the Tory leadership, just really that timescales now are so tight, that there’s very little time to change anything. Anything substantial, at any rate. The EU have said “if you don’t like the backstop, then propose something else instead”, but nothing else has even been forthcoming. Of course, we can argue still more about why timescales are so tight, but they are. The UK public elected a Conservative government in 2017, and they must have known then that Brexit was the key task, so we only have ourselves to blame. We are where we are.

Doesn’t look like ending anytime soon.

Arbitrage – woes with wordpress.com

Arbitrage is a complex name for something that’s actually very simple. You sell a product for $10 in the USA. You sell that same product in the UK for £10. In the real world $1 ≠ £1. The difference between the two, that’s arbitrage. It’s money for nothing, as long as you’re prepared to travel to a different currency with your goods or service. For multi-nationals, that isn’t a problem. In the age of internet shopping, that isn’t a problem.

For me, it always used to get my goat that American companies, in particular, would assume that £1 = $1. American companies drove computing, let alone the internet, and it basically meant that UK customers paid more. Either buy it in GBP, and accept our unfair rate, or buy it in USD, and pay the duty.

With software, in particular, we don’t really have that any more. Most things are delivered over the web, so there’s no concept of a disk going through customs. There’s not really any mechanism for an individual to pay VAT, say, other than at the point of sale. There is for businesses, and that becomes more complicated. Companies do try a bit of arbitrage, but it is usually acceptable. It’s less hassle just to pay an extra few pennies, and to know that you’ve paid in GBP, and be done with it. It also saves on banks charging for currency conversions.

However, yesterday I came across something old-school. I’ve been looking at wordpress.com, and they want £48 from me for a year’s basic subscription. When I set up the WordPress account, I must’ve said “UK” somewhere, so they know to bill me in GBP. However I was chatting to my (American) friend, he says he gets billed $48.

At today’s exchange rate, $1 should cost me £0.90, so $48 should cost me £43.19. This is using the site xe.com with today’s numbers. Yet, wordpress.com wants me to pay £48. It’s only £5 difference, but that’s an extra 10%. Imagine if everything you paid for each month just got 10% more expensive, you’d soon notice!

As you can guess from my tone, this all seems unfair. Why don’t wordpress work on the basis of “we want $48 per year per subscription”, then leave it to somebody like Paypal to calculate the amount, in the user’s local currency? Paypal allows users to pay in their local currency anyway, thereby saving them on bank charges. I’m sure there must be a little fee for their arbitrage in there anyway, but 10%?

So, I questioned them. This was all done yesterday, so at least they answer queries on a Sunday. The response started off pretty lame – “we can’t control exchange rates”. D’uh, thank you for assuming that I’m so stupid, I didn’t realise that. And, “if we billed you in US dollars, you’d only get hit by the bank for fees instead”. So, you’re giving me the choice of being screwed by the bank, or screwed by you? They did say that they would convert my GBP account to a USD account, if I wished, so at least I’d be able to choose.

Actually, writing this has made me realise – I choose neither. I really don’t like the ethics of a company who say “we will charge you more for our service, depending on where you live”.

I’m still thinking about wordpress.org, but I doubt it’ll be on wordpress.com. WordPress.org recommends a dew other companies – they all offer subscription services, but it’s not the subscription part that I object to, it’s the “having bought a subscription, we’re going to try and get some more out of you anyway”. As for “we can’t control exchange rates”, that just goes to show how dumb they think I am. But ultimately, I’m happy to stick with Blogger for now, after all, it satisfies my current needs, and contemplate a change at my leisure.




Enough?

I had a disaster yesterday. You know I was talking about moving to WordPress? Well, I was exploring how I’d do this. I had a successful backup of the Blogger site, from the day before. I wrote a post yesterday, but the backup was near enough complete.

The disaster occurred when I managed to re-import this backup file, over my existing files. I can only say that I was expecting another screen to come up, but instead it said “Importing…”.

The result? Well, I ended up with two of everything. Posts, static pages, comments…

The main problem was not, though, the stuff I could see. Lots of these pages have links to other pages in them. When you write a post, Blogger assigns it something called a perma-link, so you’ll be able to get back to that page, well, permanently. A nice straightforward:

So then began the clean-up. From the Blogger UI, I had no way of spotting the difference between my original posts, and those I’d just restored. So I was flying blind. Furthermore, when you restore pages, Blogger must recalculate these permalinks. This wouldn’t have been so bad, except for my next step. In other words:

 This image starts to show the problem. Page 1 was pointing to Page 2 still, but I was unable to see any difference between Page 2 and its duplicate.

So, I started deleting (what I thought were) the duplicate posts. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure whether I was deleting Page 2 or its duplicate. The end result?

I had this in all three scenarios,

  • Page 1 is a post, Page 2 is a post (there are a few of these, but scattered all over the blog)
  • Page 2 is a static page, Page 2 is a post (there were only 9 static pages, for example the “About” page at the top-right of the blog, but they contained probably fifty links to posts in them
  • Page 1 is a page, Page 2 is a comment. Comments must be linked, internally, to some kind of “Post ID”. If the post subsequently gets deleted, the comment is an orphan. There were eighty comments.

So, having deleted the duplicate posts, that was the rest of Sunday. As you might imagine, I sorted the static pages (absolutely fine, you’d never know the difference unless you actually looked at the hyperlink) amd the comments. That’s how I know the exact extent of the problem. With the static pages, I even took the opportunity to bring them up to date.

But post-to-post? Well, I’ve looked through recent posts and sorted them. I’ve looked through the most popular posts, and sorted them. Third, I’ve installed a custom “not found” error page, which explains to people why the links might be screwed, and invites them to contact me. I’m not sure what more I can do.