Putin is sanitising the voice of ordinary Russians

Vladimir Putin has this week signed into a law some measures to ban swearing in films, books and music.  Films with obscene content will not be granted a distribution certificate and exisiting books and music with foul language will have to be sold in special wrapping.

I spoke to Alison Flood of the Guardian about the new law, and what it says about the state of Russian politics:

Writers’ group English PEN has already condemned the move. Robert Sharp, its head of campaigns, says: “Swear words exist in every language and are part of everyday speech. Russian artists will no longer be able reflect genuine, everyday speech. Instead, they will have to sacrifice authenticity in order to please a committee of censors. This new law sends the signal that law-makers want to sanitise and silence the voice of ordinary Russians.”

In recent years, Sharp adds, we have witnessed Russia’s slow slide into authoritarianism, with impunity for the killers of Anna Politkovskaya, the prosecution of Pussy Riot, and the ban on discussing homosexuality. “These things have all squeezed the space for free speech in Russia. The government claims it is ‘protecting and developing culture’, but the effect will be to ensure that culture becomes staid, uniform and boring.”

Discussing #BooksForPrisoners on Good Cause TV

Today I was interviewed by Pete Woods for Good Cause TV.  We discussed English PEN’s campaign to reverse the Ministry of Justice’s ridiculous restrictions on sending books into prisons.  We discussed the ‘Catch-22′ aspects to the policy, and the idea that literature should be a human right.

You can watch the video below, or on Spreecast. Continue reading

Free encryption for Outlook and Apple Mail

What with the Heartbleed exploit, and approaching anniversary of the Edward Snowden revelations, I have been doing a lot of thinking about encryption of my e-mails and digital files.  A couple of weeks ago, at the FairSay e-Campaigning forum, I had a good chat with the folk from Open Rights Group who encouraged me to set up OwnCloud (which I’ve already done) and install open-source encryption for my e-mail.

I operate computers using both Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, and use the standard mail applications for each.  Its not too hard to find open source encryption for these programmes, but I thought I would oil the cogs of the Internet by linking to them here.

gpg4win is the free and open-source encryption tool for Microsfot Outlook.  Installation is a relatively simple procedure and the end result is that you get an extra menu item, ‘Add Ins’, which has a big ‘encrypt this message’ button on it.  GPGTools is an analogus appliocation for Apple Mail on a Mac. Installation is just as easy—a single click to run the installer—and little ‘encrypt’ and ‘sign’ icons appear alongside the signature icons in a mail compose window. Continue reading

We’re not a Christian nation and those who say we are are mistaken and dangerous

A lot of hoo-hah this Easter about David Cameron’s comments that the UK is a Christian country. A group of scientists and writers wrote an angry letter to the Telegraph calling this divisive.

Personally I think Cameron was trolling us—saying something deliberately controversial in order to provoke the liberal left. The European elections are looming, and I would be willing to bet that precisely the sort of people who are drifting from the Conservative Party to UKIP are the sort of people for whom the whole ‘we are a Christian nation’ schtick would resonate. Its a faux culture war in order to shore up the base. Continue reading

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OwnCloud, an open source alternative to DropBox

My previous two posts were about the angst of privileged middle classes. I wrote first about the middle class habit of moving into the catchment area for good schools. Then I excused our tendency to maintain a less-than ethical existence. Untrained eyes could be forgiven for mistaking my motives in writing these posts. Am I not simply trying to assuage my own guilt at doing precisely those things?

Not so. I feel far less guilty about my complicity in all those middle-class clichés than perhaps I should. Rather, both posts were digressions of this one, in which I shall briefly discuss the ethics of Internet apps.

Continue reading

Let them eat cake

In my quick post yesterday I touched on the trade-offs between self-interest and ethical living, and the middle-class pull to buy the best environment for one’s family. The modern Western lifestyle throws up anxieties like this all the time, because it turns out that pretty much everything we do is (on some level) unethical or hypocritical.  Travelling to the shop in a car certainly harms the enivronment.  Buying food when you get there will create landfill.  Organic food is not Fair Trade, and vice-versa. Continue reading

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Invincible

Over the weekend I went to see Invincble at the Orange Tree in Richmond, a new play by Torben Betts.  Its the kind of theatre I prefer: intimiate scenes in-the-round, teasing apart something relevant about contemporary life.

This one centres on an upper middle-class couple, Oliver and Emily, with a tragedy in their past and an warped sense of social responsibility.  They have chosen to live among ‘ordinary’ people in the North of England.  Rather than live in a middle-class ghetto and contribute to the extortionate London housing bubble, they profess a desire to improve this community.  Emily plans to become a school governor and says she is setting up an Amnesty group and an artists’ collective. Continue reading

The savvy religious of Britain

Fraser Nelson has written a much celebrated article for the Daily Telegraph about British Muslims, and how they have integrated into British life.

British Muslims don’t really feel a sense of otherness. In fact, polls show they’re much more likely to identify with Britishness than the general population. The Citizenship Survey found that most Muslims agree with two propositions: that Islam is the most important thing in their life, and that their primary loyalty lies with the British state. Most are baffled by the idea of a tension between the two.

Too often, Islam is in the news because of some sort of culture clash (for example, the row over the Mohammed cartoons or veils).  But Nelson points out that this is often a media cliche and unrepresentative of most British Muslims.  He lists several examples where Muslims have collaborated with Jewish groups and churches to ensure that diversity of faith is maintained. Continue reading

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Free speech will suffer if politicians get tough on offensive tweets

I’ve had another article published on Comment is Free—this time about social media prosecutions and the tougher prison sentences that MPs want to introduce to punish those who send threatening messages via Twitter.

Social media is supposed to be the great enabler of free speech, but in fact it’s full of paradoxes. Posting on Twitter or Facebook is sometimes the quickest way to get censored. Governments like China and Vietnam closely monitor the online space for any sign of dissent, and a recent law passed in Saudi Arabia means a simple retweet could land you in prison for a decade.

Life is better in the UK, but the contradictions persist. Caroline Criado-Perez received misogynistic threats when she launched a campaign to keep a woman on the £10 note. Jane Goldman felt compelled to leave Twitter after receiving a torrent of abuse – ironically because her husband Jonathan Ross was perceived as sexist. Rape threats, hate speech and racism are common on social media. Women and minority voices are being forced off the platform: precisely the people who we need to hear more from in our political and cultural discussions.

These contradictions are a challenge to anyone who values free expression and open rights online. If we do not act to fix this problem – with either social or technological solutions – then those in parliament who are less concerned with protecting human rights will simply introduce tougher legislation to fix the problem for us.

You can read the whole thing on the Guardian website.