Be afraid…be very afraid, because 2015 is the year of the cyber pirates

AS in New Years gone by, I’m full of good intent, with a stack of resolutions to change my errant ways and be a better, healthier – and, if at all possible – wealthier person.

In all likelihood, as in previous turns of the year, most will wither on the vine, a particularly apt expression in my case, since the vow to reduce plonk intake to a slurp or two only every other day is already a busted flush.

However, there is one resolution I’ve already started and am resolved to keep up for safety’s sake and my own peace of mind.

Admittedly, it’s a bit of a chore, but one I strongly advise anyone with a computer, smart phone, iPad, Tablet or any gizmo linking them to the internet should adopt, too: change your passwords and PIN numbers every month or so with Jesuit-like zeal.

Because the ‘in’ crime of 2015 will be cyber-hacking. And it won’t just be the usual suspects – like Hollywood belle Jennifer Lawrence, Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, model Kate Upton or Olympic gymnast, McKayla Maroney, all of whom had raunchy, private photos snatched and given a public airing – who are in the hackers’ sights.

HACKERS' VICTIM: Saucy photos of Jennifer Lawrence were stolen by cyber pirates and given an online airing

HACKERS’ VICTIM: Saucy photos of Jennifer Lawrence were stolen by cyber pirates and given an online airing

Neither is it just governments, who get hit by tens of thousands of hack attacks a day, nor global corporations, like Sony, recently forced to pull their movie, The Interview, after the North Koreans took umbrage at it spoofing their Glorious Young Leader, Kim Jong-un.

Using the nom de cyber guerre, Guardians of Peace, their response was to filch 100 terabytes – 10 times the entire printed collection of the US Library of Congress – from Sony’s internet server and selectively release some of their haul.

The raid near-crippled the studio, drew accusations amounting to ‘cowardice’ from President Obama – a man who knows a thing or two about leading from the back – and left company execs writhing with embarrassment (especially the producer who emailed his opinion that Angelina Jolie was a ‘minimally talented spoiled brat’).

That Sony ‘reinstated’ the movie didn’t mitigate their shame, further compounded on Christmas Day when a bunch of cyber cowboys dubbing themselves the Lizard Squad blitzed the company’s PlayStation server – along with that of Microsoft’s Xbox – with so much junk they collapsed, denying millions of gamers the chance to play one another online.

However, there’s nothing vaguely sinister about the bunch who skulk behind the image of a monocle, top-hatted reptile to play havoc with other people’s fun.

Outed as unsophisticated, self-serving, publicity-grubbing kids, they’re sea scouts in the murky ocean of hacking piracy, but that’s what makes them especially dangerous.

WEB WRECKERS: Cyber cowboys hiding behind the odious reptile monker, Lizard Squad, ruined millions of gamers' Christmases

WEB WRECKERS: Cyber cowboys hiding behind the odious reptile monker, Lizard Squad, ruined millions of gamers’ Christmases

Because if little-league smart alecs like Lizard Squad can wreak such damage on mega- corporations, like Sony – thanks to the easy availability on online spyware – what chance does the average iPhone user or family with an internet modem stand?

The problem is most naïve Web users don’t realise how vulnerable they make themselves by posting seemingly innocent messages on platforms like Facebook or Twitter, which reveal an awful lot about them, their families and their lifestyles.

Cyber pirates adore these social network sites, because they can ID people from photos on home pages and, if a date of birth is posted, there’s more than an odds-on chance it will be the golden key to a password or PIN (personal identification number) and a veritable treasure trove of secrets.

So a word to the wise: if you’re thinking of taking a holiday which your online friends would love to know about, keep the info hush-hush until you return, because your friendly, neighbourhood housebreaker would also be delighted to learn when your home is unoccupied.

And who hasn’t slagged off their boss, spouse or partner in an email or accessed an X-rated site. It might be nobody’s business except your own, but if it’s tucked away safely on ‘the cloud’ – a mobile storage database that lets users access messages wherever they may roam – hackers with a passing interest in blackmail will be out to snaffle it.

And, if you don’t think they can, just ask Miss Lawrence or Miss Brown Findlay what they think about this amazing on-the-hoof ‘app’, because apparently that’s from whence their saucily compromising photos were purloined.

Another ‘app’ embarrassed that its info was leaked online is Snapchat – particularly popular with teens, who like to send nude selfies, which are automatically deleted after a few seconds.

That sounds devilishly clever and failsafe, but mystery surrounds how over 100,000 images from Snapchatters suddenly found their way into the public domain. Answers on a postcard please, not via email.

SURF SECURELY: There are steps to take in making sure your Web info is properly protected

SURF SECURELY: There are steps to take in making sure your Web info is properly protected

Meanwhile, on the subject of email – and at the risk of sounding nerdy – if you log on in a café using the establishment’s wi-fi, make sure its connection doesn’t start with ‘http’, but ‘https’, which is an encrypted and secure protocol.

So, I hear you ask, how can I combat the menace of cybercrime?

For a start you could carry out a basic ‘stocktake’ of your gizmos’ security, like refreshing you passwords and PINs.

This glaring oversight was exposed in the Fleet Street phone-hacking scandal of 2011, when police were gobsmacked at the ease unscrupulous journos accessed cellphone voice mail messages. All that was needed was the targets’ PINs and these transpired to be mostly untouched factory settings, like 0000 or 1111, and family birthdays.

Ditto with internet accounts, which tend to be alpha-numeric – i.e. a mix of letters and numbers – so that ABC123DEF became one of the most popular codes in everyday use.

What’s more, people will use the same one multiple times (go on, admit you do).

On a lighter note, the probability of most folk falling victim to cyber pirates is low, though it’s a growing menace in the near future.

So ask yourself: would I go to bed with the house key in my outside front-door lock?

Neither would I. And I’ll hold that thought, since it’ll prompt me into changing my passwords and PINs regularly throughout 2015.

If all do likewise we’ll have a happy, hacker-free New Year.

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‘You can screw it’ – that’s what today’s metrosexual males think of doing DIY

WEEKEND bliss for my late, lamented father-in-law, George, was to escape to his garage-cum-workshop and strip down an engine, replace any tired parts, then completely rebuild it, sound as a bell.

A self-taught engineer and Dunkirk veteran, George was typical of a generation of make-do-and-mend blokes who could perform minor miracles with their hands, while escaping the clutches of ‘er indoors.

Once, in those pre-designer-label, cuisine refinement days – when Moben wasn’t invented and Pedini sounded like a Tuscan cheese – George knocked up a very passable set of kitchen cupboards, with sliding doors and gilt handles, which made the family home the envy of the neighbourhood.

He sawed, planed and painted boxwood in cherry-red gloss, set it up on a pine frame, all carefully mitred, and nailed the lot to the walls. No power drills or electric sanders then – or Rawlplugs – never mind swish, black granite worktops; just good, old Formica.

Way back in the 1950s Sweden hadn’t made flat-pack furniture its contribution to civilisation and a couple of blokes called Richard Block and David Quayle were still mulling over what to call their first builders’ merchants, before they stumbled on the handle, B&Q.

Dads could do things then, scribbling down a design on the back of a cigarette packet and not relying on a print-out of incomprehensible instructions, loosely translated from Serbo-Croat, which invariably meant there were a several bits left over. If you were lucky, that was.

Admittedly, from the 1970s onward, DIY came into its own with the advent of Ikea, though I’m still banjaxed by some of their jargon – Liatorp, Tjenda, Kallax anyone? – and they’ve some items so cunningly fashioned, for the life I can’t work out of me what they’re for.

A DYING BREED: Fellas into DIY are fast fading - but they do get more sex

A DYING BREED: Fellas who are  into DIY are a fast-fading bunch – but university boffins say they get more sex

As it happens, I’ve become pretty ace at assembling Ikea stuff. The trick is to follow the instructions to the letter and not get ahead of yourself by thinking you’ve second-guessed the brainbox who authored the directions.

Just find a large enough space to lay out all the parts, open the little bags of fixing gizmos, check they’re all there and get ready for a couple of hours of headbanging, cussing and twirling Allen keys.

However, it now seems – like George – I’ve become a bit of a dinosaur, because DIY has become so passé and naff today’s generation of metrosexual males avoid it like being seen without facial stubble.

I mean could you imagine the likes of David Beckham, Jude Law, Christiano Ronaldo or Brad Pitt strapping on a tool belt and getting stuck in to putting up a curtail rail. Neither can I (well, maybe Brad would).

This translates into Britain’s DIY retailers taking a financial hammering, the reason for which Homebase – which is closing a quarter of its stores – last week identified as due to ‘a generation less skilled in DIY projects.’

And, though the sector is still worth a whopping £7.3 billion per year in the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph, that’s its lowest annual turnover since 1999. So, if it continues to plummet at its current rate of 13% per annum, DIY will be dead as a self-chiselled dovetail joint by 2040.

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to fellas like him, plucking nasal hair is more important that DIY

METROSEXUAL MAN: But to blokes like him, plucking out errant nasal hair is more important that DIY

Apparently today’s 20-to-30-something fellas are more like their mums, having had their dad’s ‘traditional skills’ lobotomised.

Only five per cent of 18-24s, apparently, would attempt to unblock a sink. So, mention a rubber plunger to them and their minds will immediately jump to the conclusion: ‘Wow…sex toy!

Transfixed by their iPads, smart phones and gizmos that could launch an Apollo moon mission, I suppose it’s only to be expected post-Millennia man has lost touch with being a real geezer, in the old-fashioned meaning.

I’d speculate few own a tool box and fewer still have felt the heady rush of self-satisfaction and testosterone coursing through their veins as they re-hang a door, change the washer on a leaky tap or put together a flat-pack shelf unit.

At the risk of sounding sexist, the right-on, bully-girl, feminist PC lobby is mostly to blame for the emasculation of the masculine species.

No bloke dares be seen ogling at a Page 3 pin-up nowadays, while lads’ mags are full of beauty hints – what’s the best hair fudge or how to perk up your pecks – and snaps of grungy girls you would want to be seen out with on a dark night in Greenland.

Meanwhile, the liberal media are gushing with advice about how fellas should ‘embrace their feminine side’, learn to cook sushi and understand all those strange symbols on clothes labels, so they don’t shrink their Armani T-shirt.

This probably accounts for the number of guys entering TV baking contests and getting into hissy fits when a female competitor nobbles them, by taking their fruit-of-the-forest soufflé out of the oven five minutes before it’s risen.

Only in private can fellas let loose their red-blooded instincts, which accounts for the floodtide of interest in Internet porn. After all, someone has to be gawking at it and it’s not likely to be the ladies of local Women’s Institute, in between jam-making and renditions of Jerusalem (though I wouldn’t put it passed them).

So manual labour is increasingly seen as something to be contracted out to others, he-men, with mitts like shovels, who can tile a bathroom and tell a lump hammer from a lump of lard.

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden's contribution to modern-day civilisation

FLAT-PACK IS FAB: Ikea is Sweden’s contribution to modern-day civilisation

Quirkily, the metrosexual male’s role reversal isn’t necessary what all women want. Because, as they settle into their roles as wives and mums, they desperately want a man about the house, who can wire a plug and fit a laminated floor, not some fop who spends hours in the bathroom mirror plucking out errant nasal hair.

Meanwhile, there’s an upside to being a dab hand at DIY: you get more sex.

A study by sociologists at the University of Washington found that couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing the DIY and fettling the car – reported greater bouts of boudoir Olympics.

So, not to mince words, if men want to get laid, they should do more screwing…in the DIY meaning of the word, that is.

Anyway, must go. Have to re-fix the pergola roof, because you never know what that can lead to.

 

Euro court’s crazy Google gag is a ‘right to be rotten’, not a ‘charter to be forgotten’

BY the time you read this, it’ll be history. Or, as we were fond of saying in the good, old days of hot metal and cold print, today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish-and-chips’ wrapping.

Sardony aside, this piece is now on the internet, so in years to come perhaps some student wordsmith will read it and think, ‘Wow, that bloke could write’ or conversely, ‘What a load of b******t’.

In a free society, everyone has the privilege of a view, so those of us who live by the pen can also perish by it in the court of public opinion or, indeed, in a court of law if we cross the threshold of libel.

Which is why – whether you’re bewitched, bothered or bewildered by my utterings – you can be guaranteed that whatever I air here is based on unsullied truths, often treble checked for veracity, even if my conclusions don’t necessarily chime with yours.

As a adolescent newcomer to this surreal trade, one of the first tenets I learned was that laid down by The Guardian’s legendary editor, C.P. Scott, who, in 1921, wrote, ‘Comment is free, but facts are sacred.’

So the gleaning of accurate info is vital to my cause, my job and my service to you, the reader.

Last week, however, the ground rules shifted dramatically and I can no longer vouch that what I state is the whole truth, but something short of it.

Because that august body, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), have slammed the door on my – and your – legitimate liberty to enquire.

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must bow to EU citizens' demands to rewrite their histories

GOOGLE GAGGED: The internet search engine must now bow to EU citizens’ demands to block their historic embarrassments

They did so by ordering Google, the world’s most popular internet search engine and the planet’s most valuable brand, to bow to an individual’s demand to hide embarrassing details of their past online, even if such data remains elsewhere in cyberspace and others, beyond the remit of Europe, continue to access it.

In principal, it enshrines in law the Brussels doctrine of the ‘right to be forgotten’, which says people should not be victims of their historic mistakes or misdemeanours.

So, any citizen of the European Union will be able to require Google – and other search engines – to block any reference to their life they personally deem unpalatable…even if, in the ECJ’s own contradictory admission, it was ‘true, accurate and lawfully published’.

The bizarre ruling was handed down after 59-year-old Spaniard, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, complained that an auction notice in a Barcelona newspaper, regarding his home being repossessed to repay social security debts in 1998, still appeared in Google searches, thus infringing his privacy.

Senor Gonzalez said the matter had been ‘fully resolved for a number of years’. And the ECJ’s 13-strong panel of judges agreed that, under a 1995 EU data protection directive, his rights ‘override, as a general rule, the interest of internet users’.

The test case is relatively small beer – not worth even a can of San Miguel lager in the great scheme of things (except, of course, to Senor Gonzalez, whose action won him a tsunami of unwanted headlines that now litter the Web).

However, its ramifications are scary, not say a full frontal attack on liberty.

EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, believes it’s ‘a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans’.

In contrast, Emma Carr, of Big Brother Watch, points out, ‘The principle that you have a right to be forgotten is a laudable one, but it was never intended to be a way for people to rewrite history.’

Her fears are understandably echoed by Google, who report over a thousand people have already demanded links to unfavourable stories about them be blocked.

They include an unnamed British ex-MP, fuming that his expenses claims paint a less than glowing portrait of his integrity, a tax scammer, 20 convicted criminals – including a paedophile – plus a surgeon, whose handiwork received negative reviews from patients.

The US-based search engine now faces a logistical nightmare in how to deal with the predicted flood of demands and says it will need a multi-lingual ‘army of removal experts’ in each of the 28 EU member states.

Even that, though, may prove a mission impossible, because the idiot ECJ’s criteria of what is ‘no longer relevant’ to the public interest is hopelessly blurred, since it fails to define what is or isn’t ‘historic’.

Nonetheless, by its clunking fist, the court has granted itself editorial powers it has no right to wield, given the internet is a global resource and this ruling infringes the American constitution’s First Amendment, the freedom of expression.

And, to further complicate the farce, the ECJ decision doesn’t apply to Facebook comments or Twitter posts.

So, in essences, the learned jurists have not only made an ass of the law – and themselves – but cooked up a crooks’ charter, whereby every miscreant from the west of Ireland to the Black Sea is empowered to act as their own cyberspace censor.

Conmen, rogue traders and motley scumbags must think the verdict is better than a ‘get out of jail free’ card, because they can rewrite their histories with complete alacrity.

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ's internet ban ruling is glad tiding for those who want to hide the truth

EURO INJUSTICE: The ECJ’s internet ban ruling does liberty no favours – but favours the notion that censorship rules in the EU

Ditto the rich and famous, who want their private lives – however seedy and corrupt – out of the public eye. Some already do this by employing expensive PR firms to sanitise their Wikipedia references to appear like insipid autobiographies.

But anyone, other than the certifiably stupid, knows the internet is a mixed bag of knowledge and nonsense, parts of it vital to the passage of information, science and learning; other, darker zones inflammatory, distorted and gratuitously pornographic

However, attempts to police it in the heavy-handed way the ECJ have done are nothing short of Stalinesque – or Maoesque, in the case of China, where what Beijing users can browse is a fraction of that available to New Yorkers and, until last week, Europeans.

Meanwhile, by erring on the side of those who want their pasts hidden, the ECJ judges have added yet another layer of control and restraint to liberty that’s become synonymous with the increasingly autocratic European Union.

 

Black gold, Texas Tea…the curious curse of striking it rich with oil

SWATHED in the smoke of burning barricades and swirls of tear-gas, the streets are awash with blood, as angry demonstrators clash with baton-wielding riot police, licenced to fire live rounds into the baying hordes.

In retaliation, protestors resort to farming Molotov cocktails and smashing up pavements to build arsenals of missiles to hurl at the brutal security forces, under orders from a detested, crisis-stricken government to quash the rebellion at all costs.

Up to last weekend at least six people were reported dead and hundreds injured, as unrest snowballed from the capital to provincial cities, where tens of thousands more joined the insurgency.

Meanwhile, from his jail cell, the opposition leader implores the protestors, ‘Don’t give up – I won’t’.

As much as this scenario sounds familiar, let me tell you I’m not describing Ukraine, but a land far away, yet nonetheless riven by violent political, economic and class tensions.

This is Venezuela, the latest state to be consumed by people-power fury and – like previous examples of where outraged citizens have taken to the streets to defy despots – in peril of descending into ‘a spiral of death and destruction’, to quote one of its cabinet’s own ministers.

However, unlike Ukraine, Egypt or Syria, in terms of vast, natural resources, Venezuela is one of the richest nations on the planet, sitting on top of the world’s largest reservoir of oil.

The contradiction, though, is food shortages are chronic, inflation hovers at an unbelievable 60 percent, unemployment is at astronomic levels, corruption endemic and, according to the UN, the country has the world’s fifth highest murder rate.

Commentators attribute this wretched fiasco to Venezuela’s 15-year dalliance with red-raw socialism, first imposed by the late president, Hugo Chavez, who died a year ago, aged 58, and was replaced by his weakling underling, Nicolás Maduro.

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela's Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

PAYING HOMAGE: Venezuela’s Maduro unveils a giant portrait of his predecessor, firebrand president Hugo Chavez

In contrast to the firebrand Chavez, who established a rabid, anti-US alliance with communist Cuba’s Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, and South America’s other, far-Left regimes – Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua – the new boss is a pale, ineffectual shadow.

True, Maduro won a hotly-disputed presidential election last April, but only by the narrowest margins and against a backdrop of claims his United Social Party resorted to its usual ploy of bribing the underclass with government cash.

The former bus driver, though, has not forgotten some lessons from his late, unlamented predecessor, including crushing media freedom – he recently expelled CNN – and using the security forces as personal enforcers.

His problems, however, stem from the country’s greatest gift: oil. Because, like many nations similarly blessed, Venezuela is a virtual one-product economy, relying on its vast coffers of petro dollars to import almost everything else.

Nor are profits spent wisely at home. Hugely impractical social programmes invented by Chavez no longer resonate with the frustrated poor. Unable to buy the daily basics, they, too, have enlisted at the barricades.

This, though, isn’t about a nation in critical melt-down; no, it concerns the mixed blessing of those countries whose most tradable asset is the black gold lying beneath their parched earth, sand or sea beds.

Of the dozen members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), barely one can be described as a functioning democracy. Indeed, most are repressive autocracies, using their stupendous wealth to suppress civil rights, finance international terrorism or prop up other repugnant regimes (i.e. Iran backing Syria’s butcher, Basher Al-Assad).

Outputting over 33,000,000 barrels of oil a day, for the record they are: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, of course, not forgetting Venezuela.

Add Vladimir Putin’s ultra-nationalist Russia to this unholy mix and it’s not difficult to deduce that control of the world’s most vital commodity lies in the grasp of some of the most detestable fists.

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee rides to work at a Middle East oilfield

OILING THE WHEELS: A refinery employee bicycles to work at a Middle East oilfield

Unsurprisingly, then, the ‘oil weapon’ – even the mere threat of it – has been used to hold the industrialised West over the proverbial barrel for nearly half a century.

So, ignoring the negatives of this fossil fuel being an environmental blight – a debate for another day – there is a shrieking need to find a cheaper, synthetic replacement to power our factories, homes and cars purely on economic grounds.

As yet, there is no total answer. Hence, various Western nations dicker with a potpourri of solutions, by various, greener means of energy manufacture…from wind farms, to seawater wave power, to vegetable crops, to kinetics and hydrogen, to solar panelling, to – would you believe it – donkeys tethered to a dynamo wheel.

In lieu of the ultimate alternative to Texas Tea, America’s interim brainwave is fracking, which, in tandem with its homeland output, has taken the USA to the point of petroleum independence, if not beyond.

Elsewhere, the idea of drilling into the bedrock, then injecting it with high-pressure water to coax out oil molecules, is meeting with resistance, notably in the UK.

Nuclear generation meets with similar hostility: Germany, for instance, is shunning the whole idea for fear of a repeat of a Fukushima-style disaster, though it’s a mainstream source in France, which even exports nuclear-produced energy to the UK.

In summary then, in a world where a robot vehicle can be propelled to Venus, people can be linked by voice and video to others thousands of miles apart and innumerable killer ills are now curable, scientists haven’t yet invented a safer, all-embracing, affordable alternative to a dirty, dark, viscous fluid that’s a hangover from the industrial revolution.

And it’s darkly ironic that the nations blessed by a lucky toss of the geological dice should be the worst possible custodians of the substance that makes the world’s wheels turn.

Oil, though, isn’t a finite resource – even for Venezuela.

The multi-national petroleum corporations know time is running out; so do the tin-pot monarchs (no prizes for guessing who), pseudo-democratic tyrants (Venezuela’s Maduro) and religious fanatics (Iran and Iraq)

So, if ever there was a moment for science to solve the planet’s most pressing dilemma –discovering a viable, economical, non-fossil substitute for oil – it’s NOW!

How BDS bigots, deceivers and smear merchants corner the market in hate

IF you believe in fairies, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigners – who I’ll call BDS-ards for space reasons – are kindly folk, if a tad economical with truth, who only seek a better world…better still without that pesky state of Israel.

What a travesty it is, they claim, that uppity Jews – six million of them – boss the Middle East, an oasis of fellowship, where 400,000,000 amiable Arabs merely want to go about their daily business of annihilating each other.

And what are these ‘land-grabbers’ doing there at all, demand the BDS-ards. Huh! It’s as if the Jews think they’ve some 3,500-year-old right to Israel, not poor Arabs, who’ve identified themselves as Palestinians for…er, well maybe a century, give or take a decade.

So forget historical fact, including the glaring one that no country called Palestine ever existed.

And perish the thought BDS-ards think there’s anything amiss with China brutalising Tibet, Turkey – with more journalists jailed than anywhere else – persecuting Kurds and ‘annexing’ Northern Cyprus, Russia turning Chechnya into an abattoir or Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea believing human rights are just for the wimpy West.

Similarly, the gang of mass murderers blighting much of Africa are of no consequence.

Because in the warped, BDS mindset all the world’s ills lie at the doorstep of Israel, uniquely the world’s only Jewish – if secular – state and rated by internationally respected Freedom House as the Middle East’s only free one.

The point is, despite swapping land for peace with Egypt and Jordan, the confounded Israelis just won’t cave in to all Palestinian demands – PLO warlord-cum-compulsive kleptomaniac, Yasser Arafat, was even offered 96% of what he sought for a nation-state, yet still flatly rejected it.

Israel also has the audacity to insist on the same rights as 57 countries that are Islamic and be recognised as Jewish.

HEROIC GIG: Sir Paul McCartney defied death threats to perform in Tel Aviv

HEROIC GIG: Sir Paul McCartney defied death threats to perform in Tel Aviv

That’s a definite no-no, rail the BDS-ards, who contend – for all its Western democracy, respect for gays, equal rights for women and people of other faiths, especially its 1.3-million Muslims – Israel is an ‘apartheid regime’, ruthlessly occupying the West Bank, coincidentally the cradle of terrorism.

Israel even built a protective wall rounds itself, dramatically curbing terror attacks by 80%, and has the nerve to retaliate against suicide bombers and fusillades of rockets fired by Gaza’s cuddly do-gooders, Hamas.

So, indulging in a repugnant equivalence to the Holocaust, not a few BDS-ards compare Israel’s legitimate right to self-defence with ‘Nazism’, disingenuously obscuring the issue their own tactics smack of totalitarian thuggery.

Founded in 2005, BDS was inspired by Qatari-born bigot Omar Barghouti – bizarrely a student at Tel Aviv University – to delegitimise and destroy Israel via an international trade and cultural boycott.

BDS-ards say their model is the one that helped topple white, supremacist South Africa, though Nelson Mandela, who knew a thing or two about real apartheid, distanced himself from their ravings.

Meanwhile, BDS stoops to sophistry in a claim that it merely seeks to end Israeli ‘occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands’ and a ‘right of return’ for Palestinians.

What they’re coy about admitting is this includes today’s four million descendants of the 700,000 Arabs displaced in the 1948 Israel War of Independence, when five, invading Arab armies failed to crush the re-born, UN-sanctioned  Jewish state.

Note the ‘all’, because the ploy is to dump on Israel a multitude of Arabs, weaned on a diet of vicious anti-Semitism, that BDS-ards hope will deliver a new Muslim state, entirely Jew-free – ‘Judenrein’, as Hitler termed it – even if a bloodbath is guaranteed.

In its pursuit of this ghoulish vision, BDS never lets truth spoil its PR war, especially with a pliant Western media – lead by those bastions of journalistic objectivity, The Guardian, New York Times and BBC – to give lies legs

Naturally, there’s a fetid stench of far-Left odium about BDS-ards, who subscribe to free speech, only if it chimes with their preposterous ‘group think’.

OXFAM DUMPED: Actress Scarlett Johansson quit the charity in a storm over her role as the 'face' of SodaStream

OXFAM DUMPED: Actress Scarlett Johansson quit the charity in a storm over her role as the ‘face’ of SodaStream

Its key battlegrounds are academia, big biz and showbiz, where it has achieved some traction, though not without embarrassments, the latest being a kick in the bias of Oxfam by its former goodwill ambassador, actress Scarlett Johansson.

When the charity upbraided her for promoting SodaStream, a fizzy drinks gizmo made in a factory just over the contentious, pre-1967 Six Day War ‘Green Line’,  the Hollywood A-lister summarily dumped it, saying she supported ‘economic co-operation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine’ (which, by implication, Oxfam doesn’t).

Worse, Oxfam was told to shove off by SodaStream’s 700 Palestinian workers, who enjoy identical rights to Israeli staff and are paid four times the West Bank average.

Still BDS remains the toast of certain showbiz luminaries, like the preciously PC Emma Thompson, who ganged up with like-minded luvvies to pen an anguished letter to The Guardian – where else! – demanding an Israel theatrical troupe be banned from appearing at London’s Globe Theatre.

Another is ex-Pink Floyd strummer, Roger Waters, whose hysterical animus towards Israel is claimed by critics to hide motives far more insidious as he tries to harass pop stars into nixing appearances in the Jewish state.

Despite such coercion, icons such as Sir Elton John, Rihanna, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Alicia Keys continue to play Israel; Sir Paul McCartney did so, too, bravely defying death threats, reportedly from BDS-ards; and The Rolling Stones are due in Tel Avis this June.

On the financial front, several European banks have been pressed into severing links with Israel for ‘ethical reasons’, notably Denmark’s Danske Bank (otherwise known as the bank that liked to say ‘Yes’ to backing North Korean sales of ballistic missiles to Iran, according to a US State Department report revealed by Wikileaks).

In academia, the tiny, Left-leaning American Studies Association recently added its voice to BDS, only to find itself boycotted by over a hundred, top US universities.

But BDS-ards claimed a major scalp when they persuaded Professor Sir Stephen Hawking, lauded as Britain’s most brilliant physicist, to renege on an invitation to visit Israel…despite the hi-tech wonders powering his awesome, life-enhancing wheelchair being Israeli innovations

The stark truth is BDS is shot full of such hypocrisy and bigotry and – let’s face it – not a few who hide their repellent anti-Semitism under the pretence of Palestinian solidarity.

The authoritative Economist magazine branded the movement ‘flimsy’ and ineffective, pointing out that ‘blaming Israel alone for the impasse…will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair.’

And not even the Palestinian leadership supports the boycott.

Sane folk would also imagine art, wealth-creation and ground-breaking technology should transcended all boundaries, their bounties shared by people everywhere. But, where only Israel is concerned, that’s heresy in the skewered opinion of BDS-ards.

And the people they target – from showbiz stars to businesses and academics – are no more responsible for the Israel-Palestinian imbroglio than they are for the slump in Mongolian yurt sales.

So let there be no mistaking the real message of BDS: Make hate, kill hope.

Kids: Why nobody should be spared the agony and ecstasy of having them

IT was my birthday last week – no, don’t ask, because long ago I decided 39 was the perfect age, so stuck with it – and the following is an excerpt from a conversation I had with my eight-year-old grandson in London via the miracle of Skype.

Grandson (GS): ‘How old are you now, Grandpa Hugh?’

Me, teasingly: ‘How old do you think I am?’

GS: ‘Will you take me for a McDonald’s next time you’re here?’

Me: ‘Of course. I usually do when I’m visiting.’

GS: ‘Then you’re 22.’

Me, mildly bewildered, though flattered: ‘Twenty-two! Then how old is Mummy?’

GS: ‘Oh, at least 36.’

Me: ‘Hang on a mo’…if I’m Mummy’s daddy, how can she be older than me?’

GS: ‘Because she won’t take me to McDonald’s.’

Then there’s the Mallorcan grandson, aged six, who – apropos nothing in particular – demanded of his parents, ‘If you die, who’s going to feed me?’

This fixation with sustenance was also echoed by another London grandson, the four-year-old, who recently renamed himself Nemo and announced, ‘I’m never going to get married – I’m just going to get a cook.’

So, irrespective of how my grandkids are dispersed around the planet – three in London, including one who landed in November; another three in Luxemburg, the latest of whom hatched in October; and one here in Mallorca – all seem to be developing a survival instinct, based on naked self-interested, verging on misogyny in Nemo’s case.

Maybe that’s an inherent trait in us all and no bad thing, you might say, especially in today’s world of merciless cut and thrust.

It’s just that kids haven’t learned the niceties of make their feelings known without occasionally sounding artless and overstepping the fine, demarcation line between being endearingly cute and lippy, smart alecs.

ROLE REVERSAL: In the hit BBC sitcom, Outnumbered, the brats get respect, the parents just abuse

ROLE REVERSAL: In the hit BBC sitcom, Outnumbered, the brats kids get respect, the parents just abuse

For instance, I’m an avid watcher of the BBC1 sitcom, Outnumbered, in which two cringing schoolteachers are constantly ‘dissed’ by their three gobby offspring.

Though it’s amusing, I truly loathe the show’s characters, but still remain transfixed by the rampant anarchy of a household run by – and for the sole benefit of – obnoxious brats, where it’s impossible to determine who’s a parent and which is a kid.

In an unsubtle display of role reversal; the children get respect, the parents merely abuse.

Naturally, now, from the lofty vantage point of grandparenthood, it’s easy to identify our children’s parental fault-lines, while claiming in our day – tut, tut – we’d never countenance impertinence.

But we did, though it reflected the pre-gizmo times when the TV remote control was the ‘in’ thingummy, phones had dials and people called comptometer operators beavered away, generating rates bills in council offices.

Since we were post-WW2 Baby Boomers, we applied more liberalism to parenthood than our sterner mums and dads. No smacking – well, only when you were riled beyond reason – but gentle chiding and, in my case, verbal fisticuffs in which I always had the last punchline.

Once, in a hissy fit, my then sarky teenage daughter said to me, ‘I never asked to be born’ to which I retorted, ‘Yeah, and I’d have preferred a hamster.’

As parental put-downs go, it wasn’t bad, she later admitted. But the one that stuck in her mind was the note I once left on her pillow, saying: ‘Seeking refuge from the raging storm,  a troupe of wandering flamenco minstrels chanced upon your room today and, for reasons of personal safety, decided it was wiser to return to Spain.’

Apparently, though, my speciality in imposing order was a flaring of the nostrils, which petrified my children, plus hiding the remote control under the cat, while the telly was tuned to The Incredible Hulk. It figuratively froze the blood of my oldest son, then aged about five, who’d scurry off to bed and bury himself under the quilt.

But we all adapt differently to parenthood, which, short of going to war, is one of life’s greatest challenges. And, while I understand the self-indulgence of couples who opt to remain childless – and feel sorrow for those who dearly want kids, but can’t have them – nonetheless I think parenthood should be compulsory.

GRAND BEING GRANS: But as Baby Boomer parents was too much liberalism applied to child-rearing?

GRAND BEING GRANS: But as Baby Boomer parents was too much liberalism applied to child-rearing?

Because there’s no feeling like quite it…a meld of agony and ecstasy, when – as I told the son who only became a father in November – ‘for the first time in your life, someone’s come along who’s more important to you than you are.’

It’s no good trying to explain the emotional roller-coaster ride of being a mum or dad until you’ve been there. And, despite humungous piles of bumph written on the subject, no manual – not even the latest guide, H is for Hummus: A Modern Parent’s ABC – will help.

However, the book is an interesting intro to trendy phraseology: ‘A’ might still stand for Apple, but ‘B’ is for ‘Babycinno’ (a mini-cup of choc-sprinkled frothy milk given away free at Starbucks); ‘I’ is for ‘iPaddy’ (and related to ‘M’ for ‘Meltdown’), which occurs when an iPad is repossessed from a snarling tot; and ‘W’ means ‘Wine-time’, the moment after you’ve put the kids down and reach for liquid tranquiliser, having survived another day of their assault.

But probably the most important issue overlooked by most parents is the burgeoning cost of child rearing racked up over a 21-year stretch, which insurer LV’s Cradle to College report last week estimated to be £225,000/€270,000.

Excluding private education, this covers everything…from childcare, clothes, food and school necessities to spending money, toys, holidays, travel and furniture.

Which is why, each year on their birthdays, I pop a bill – headlined: ‘Services to Upbringing & General Maintenance’ – inside my kids’ cards. Calculated to the dates each finished uni, it averages at about £180,000/€216,000, plus accrued interest at a not unreasonable 3% per annum.

Have I received a penny back? Not a chance.

In my sons’ cases, the accounts are returned, unpaid, with Post It notes attached, saying, ‘No longer at this address.’

Meanwhile, my daughter continues to insist she never asked to be born and I continue to riposte I really wanted a hamster. They’re so much cuddlier and don’t answer back.

The perils of the ‘anti-social’ media: Facebook follies and Twitter ‘trolls’

According to the Chambers Dictionary definition, twitter is a ‘tremulous chirping’ and ‘an excrescence on a horse’s hoof’, which I’m sure Zara Philips would recognise instantly.

Handling as it does 40 million ‘tweets’ a day, Twitter is also a social media phenomenon, so colossally popular it has ballooned into the second most-visited information exchange after Facebook.

So how come I rather favour Chambers’ latter definition, minus allusion to things equine, because I think there’s a clear and present danger it is becoming not so much ‘excrescence’ more on-line, verbal excrement?

I don’t ‘tweet’ for two main reasons: i) I’d find it nigh on impossible to say anything meaningful in a maximum of 140 characters; and ii) most of the outpourings I’ve read on Twitter are so utterly puerile, I don’t wish to join a club whose membership includes lobotomised nerds with nothing better to do than to stuff their opinionated vanities down the gullets of the gullible or similarly vacuous.

Yes, yes, I’m sure Twitter has some very salient advantages, which many folk appreciate. However, my gut instinct tells me I’m somehow not going to benefit from the ‘tweeted’ wit and wisdom of overpaid soccer stars or what some preening pop princess has to contribute on the topic of world peace.

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous 'trolls' lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

TWEETERS BEWARE: Anonymous ‘trolls’ lurk in the dark zones of Twitter, often targeting women

Maybe it’s a generational gap – after all, 51% of its users are in the 24-34 age bracket – but frankly I suspect the whole social media scene is a minefield, too easily open to misuse by abusers dubbed ‘trolls’.

Facebook, meanwhile, can be a mixed bag, though I have a page on that site, where this blog features.

Certainly, it’s a splendid means of mass broadcasting personal messages – thereby nullifying the need to make countless phone calls – but beware of pitfalls…like saying how you’re coping after the decree nisi (fact: one in five divorces is blamed on Facebook).

Maybe the pool party photos you posted of you and what’s-his-name skinny-dipping, rat-legged, might have been to blame. The judge certainly didn’t buy the line it was just innocent fun, especially when your newly-liberated ‘ex’ was away on business in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, was it wise to announce to every burglar in the neighbourhood you were off on that round-the-world cruise? No wonder those nasty insurance men made such a fuss over your claim for replacing three plasma-screen TVs, all those expensive electronic gizmos and your late mum’s collection of Georgian silver after they’d seen your Facebook page.

Frankly, I’m often gobsmacked at how much personal info people naively post on the internet about their plans, their thoughts and those wonderful snaps, which is why Facebook has become the first portal of call from the criminal fraternity.

Twitter, however, is an entirely different social media animal – and lately too often a vicious, nihilistic form of disseminating obnoxious disinformation by any moron with the minimal grey matter to invent a hash-tag.

So, far from social media being a positive force for democratising the internet, thus allowing individuals to plug their talents or businesses and form friendships, in parts it has become a virtual realm of dark lawlessness for the anti-social to gratuitous pervert what we glibly describe as ‘free speech’.

And, in the wrong hands, it’s fascistic, because it directly contradicts the compact that exists in a civilised society, whereby we accept moral responsibilities – and legal edicts – that curb what we can do and say.

The official media generally accept those obligations, because libel actions are expensive, while phone-hacking and bribing cops is illegal.

TWEETERING TWIT? Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker, paid the price for an erroneous 'tweet'

TWEETERING TWIT: Sally Berkow, wife of the House of Commons Speaker

Some ‘tweeters’, too – notably silly Sally Berkow, wife of the UK House of Commons Speaker, comedian Alan Davies and Guardian columnist, George Monbiot – also found a loose texting finger can be costly and embarrassing, after they erroneously smeared Lord McAlpine as a paedophile.

Yet, Twitter remains the preferred weapon of choice for sinister ‘trolls’, who eke out sicko pleasure in cyber-bullying and stalking an untold number of women with the most chillingly explicit menaces.

It’s also the nether world of sexual predators and racists, who can broadcast their bile by cellphone, on the hoof and ostensibly undetectable.

Meanwhile, because the demented perps hide behind the anonymity of hash-tags and operate in cowardly isolation, nobody, it seems, can collar them.

The police claim they haven’t the resources, despite managing to arrest a man over alleged death threats to British parliamentarian Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

And Twitter? So far their knee-jerk reaction has been little more than a cringe-inducing ‘personal apology’ from its UK boss, Tony Wang.

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being bullied by anonymous 'trolls' on the Ask.fm website

ABUSE VICTIM: Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself after being cyber-bullied by anonymous ‘trolls’ on the Ask.fm website

Twitter and Facebook, however, aren’t the only miscreants, because last week 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Leicestershire, hanged herself, after receiving threats on Ask.fm, a Q&A site, which allows users to send messages to one another without having to disclose their identities.

Last year two Irish youngsters took their lives in separate incidents after also being bullied on the same, Latvia-based site.

Clearly, this state of internet anarchy can’t prevail and politicians everywhere seem powerless to stop the rot, except to issue pious words of condemnation.

So the solution must rest with the social media platform providers themselves, who should show some social responsibility for the billions they net, by blocking the nasties and nutters from their domains.

Until they do, ‘tweet’ at your peril and make sure your Facebook postings don’t explode in your face.