Congratulations to the rocket scientists from the European Space Agency who successfully landed a probe on the duck shaped comet 67P. It makes me proud to be European, a fine thought amid the relentless Euro-skepticism from UKIP and the Tories. As Nick Cohen said in the Spectator today, it’s worth remembering that support for the EU is at a 23 year high, with a plurality of British voters favouring membership. 56% of people favour staying in, while 36% of people would leave. Yes yes, the ESA is not an EU body, but apparently 20% of its funding originates from the EU. Let us just say that the success of this mission shows the value of international cooperation towards a shared vision, that could never be achieved by just one of the countries involved. Continue reading →
The Great War began 100 years ago, but it still feels like part of our world. First, because the outcome of that war shaped the rest of the twentieth century, and framed many of our current obsessions. But also because most of us are only once-removed from the action. I was born relatively late in the twentieth century, yet I met and was photographed with a great-grandfather who fought on the Western Front. Many of us will have spoken to relatives who remember the conflict (even if they were not combatants).
The centenary of the war is a landmark moment that prompts me to ponder how history is like a concertina. Sometimes, events feel very close; at other times, they are incredibly far away. We often get a shock when we realise that an event we think of as quite recent is actually ‘history’ (today, for example, Twitter is in shock that ‘Everybody Want To Rule The World’ by Tears For Fears is thirty years old). Continue reading →
But in this case, the question is not a like-for-like, life-for-life comparison. Instead, it boils down to whether we
save the lives of dozens, or perhaps hundreds of illegal immigrants; or
try to save a few million Euros of costs incurred by the Italian navy
… and I suppose, a few million more Euros caused by the inconvenience of being stuck with a boat-load of Africans without identity documents.
Students in ‘Introduction to Ethics’ seminars should not find this example particularly troubling. Since we are not weighing up human lives, a few humane heuristics will see us through. One of those is that if its a choice between people and money, you save the lives. When confronted with someone in clear and present danger, and the power to save them, we should not sit on our hands and watch them drown.
The two Jurassic London titles are The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp, a thriller that spans thousands of years, and The Reef by Mark Charan Newton, originally published in 2008 by Pendragon Press and described as “a tale of weird pulp adventure”.
The Good Shabti will be available as an exclusive limited, numbered edition with cover art by Jeffrey Alan Love, and a portion of all proceeds will be donated to the Egypt Exploration Society.
Are you interested in learning more about this project? I have recently established an announcement list so I can go stright to people’s inboxes with news about my writing. Sign up below! You may also wish/prefer to sign up for Jarassic London mailings, too.
It’s been a while since I’ve logged anything here about political correctness, a concept I believe to be much maligned and in need of defence. This quote from Deadspina summary of the #GamerGate controversy neatly summarises a dynamic that exists all over the politic discourse
Co-opting the language and posture of grievance is how members of a privileged class express their belief that the way they live shouldn’t have to change, that their opponents are hypocrites and perhaps even the real oppressors. This is how you get St. Louisans sincerely explaining that Ferguson protestors are the real racists, and how you end up with an organized group of precisely the same video game enthusiasts to whom an entire industry is catering honestly believing that they’re an oppressed minority.
This rings true to me, but of course its a problematic analysis. No-one of whom this is said is likely to believe it is actually about them. And even if they do, they are bound to believe that it is simply another example of media bias or snide liberal condescension. This is the problem with ‘culture war’, the paucity of common ground and the disbelief that the other side is acting in good faith. These kinds of debate scare me.
#Gamergate, by the way, is the hashtag around which a modern, online culture war has arisen. The Deadspin link above gives a good, quick summary. It’s interesting that for people not online, or rather, people not on Twitter… or rather, people who do not follow social media and gaming accounts on Twitter, will have absolutely no idea that the controversy is even happening. I think its fascinating that there could be such vicious and virulent arguments raging—arguments that may become defining moments for many people—to which the rest of the world is utterly oblivious. I know offline, plenty of communities and countries experience disasters and wars to which the rest of the world remains ignorant, but what’s interesting in this case is that your neighbours and co-workers could be foot-soldiers in this war, and you might never know. In that respect, there are similarities with the #McCann controversy discussed previously: I had no idea the controversy even existed.
This is an emotive and controversial subject so it’s worth reminding ourselves of my standard disclaimer.
On Thursday, I was interviewed on Sky News about free speech on social media. On Sunday evening, it emerged that the woman confronted by Martin Brunt in his associated report had been found dead in a hotel in Leicester. At the time of writing details about the circumstances of Brenda Leyland’s death have not been made public.
This development raises all sorts of new questions about the conduct of the media, about discourse on social media, about the targetting of other social media users by online vigilantes, and about mental health issues. I will not try to answer them here, but I will raise a couple of points I think are pertinent.
First, the entire Twitter history of Ms Leyland’s @SweepyFace Twitter account can currently be viewed and downloaded via GrepTweet(or here as a .txt file). There are over 4,000 tweets in the account and all of them appear to be about the McCanns… or rather, about #McCann, the ongoing “he said, she said” debate between pro- and anti- tweeters. Browsing through the tweets, I see none that I would describe as threats or abuse. The tweets do not directly address the McCanns, who are not on Twitter.
Related to this: its unclear which, if any of these tweets were in the dossier sent to the police and seen by Martin Brunt.
Second, it is incredibly sad and ironic that the death of a woman acused of trolling should mean that the Sky News reporter who exposed Brenda Leyland is now the subject of a Twitter storm. This week I have often thought of this message from legal blogger Jack of Kent which sums up the situation perfectly:
Twitter often combines the Two Minute Hate and Lord of the Flies in a way that neither Orwell nor Golding would have been surprised at.
Last week I was invited into the Sky News central London studio to discuss free speech and ‘trolling’ on social media. The segment had been prompted by a report by Sky journalist Martin Brunt into a ‘dossier’ of alleged abuse of Kate and Gerry McCann, the parents of missing Madeleine.
During the discussion I made the distinction between tweets that were abusive or threatening on the one hand, and others that were merely ‘offensive’. I cited the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines on when to prosecute, and also warned at the development of ‘privatised censorship’ where different ideological groups use poorly-worded laws to threaten each other with prosecution.
Robert Sharp, of freedom of expression group English PEN and the Libel Reform Campaign, said: “The worrying gap between protections in England and Wales and Scotland is allowing a chilling loophole to exist and this is especially concerning after Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom.”
The internet, and in particular social media, means that defamatory statements published in England, for example, could almost certainly be deemed to have been published in Scotland. So somebody who believes they have been defamed online – in, for example, the electronic version of a newspaper, story can now choose where to sue.
Mr Sharp added: “We have every respect for Scots law and understand that it is not the same. But as long as the loophole exists, the chill exists. As long as we have the UK, we can say that if somebody has a reputation in England that can be tarnished, they have a reputation in Scotland too. This is a real constitutional issue and we hope Scotland will adopt a defamation act quickly.”
Today I am quoted in the Guardian, blasting the Maldives‘ ridiculous new law that insists all books be passed by a board of censors:
At English PEN, head of campaigns Robert Sharp called the “sweeping new law” a “disaster for freedom of expression in the Maldives”.
“The parliament should be acting to expand the space for freedom of expression, not enacting laws that will stifle debate and dissent,” said Sharp. “These new rules will also damage Maldivian culture. How can Dhivehi authors flourish when all novels and poetry must pass a board of censors? Maldivian literature will stagnate under these new rules. We hope the president and the parliament of the Maldives will think again.”