Brothers Grim

I wonder whether the security services know whether attacks planned by siblings have a higher success rate?

Belgium has become the latest victim of a terrorist attack. Daesh/Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the bombings in Brussels, and the authorities there have named two of the suicide bombers as brothers Khalid and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui.

The last three terrorist outrages in Europe have all been carried out by brothers.  Salah and Brahim Abdeslam were part of the group who carried out the Paris attacks on 13th November 2015. Continue reading “Brothers Grim”

Harry Potter and the Ethnographic Refusal

To what extent should people explain their culture to outsiders?

JK Rowling periodically releases short pieces of writing on her Pottermore site that build upon the Harry Potter world.  She has recently published information on wizarding schools around the world, such as Uagadou in Uganda or Mahoutokoro in Japan.  Its a clever way to engage fans from all over the world, bringing a little bit of the magic to those who might not readily see themselves reflected in Ron, Hermione and Harry.

But with her ‘History of Magic in North America‘ JK Rowling appears to have become unstuck.  Her attempt to integrate the Native American community into her world building has drawn criticism… not least because she lumps the myriad tribes and Nations together under one ‘Native American community’ catch-all.   Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Ethnographic Refusal”

Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer

Part of me actually wants Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination.

The Trump candidacy is looking ever more likely.

Here are a couple of opinion pieces noting the rise of the anti-politics he represents and why leaders within the Republican Party are now unable to stop him.

First, Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, describes the political ‘debt’ to the truth that the Republicans have racked up in recent years. Continue reading “Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer”

I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist

There are several reasons why I am happy to have personally blocked this terrorist investigation

Apple have refused an FBI request to help crack the iPhone of a terrorist.

Ray McClure, the uncle of murdered soldier Drummer Lee Rigby has said that Apple is protecting terrorists, and that ‘life comes before privacy’.

I think Drummer Rigby’s uncle is mistaken, both in his assumptions about what Apple is technically capable of, and the moral trade-off between life and privacy.

We need to understand that Apple are not being asked to decrypt just the iPhone of one particular terrorist.  They are not like a landlord with a spare key that will open a particular door.  If they were, then there would be legitimacy in Mr McClure’s complaints.  A judge could examine the particular case at hand, and then sign a warrant that permitted entry to the property or decryption of a device.  Targeted surveillance and privacy violations are a legitimate law enforcement tool.

But that is not the request.  Instead, the FBI have asked Apple to hack their entire operating system in such a way that would enable them to by-pass encryption on any iPhone.  Including mine. Continue reading “I Take Full Responsibility For Apple Inc Protecting The Privacy of a Dead Terrorist”

On Gun Ownership, Nothing Less Than Repeal of the 2nd Amendment Will Do

For human rights defenders, advocating for a constitutional amendment is the only consistent approach

Not a week goes by, it seems, without a mass shooting in the USA.  The world’s oldest democracy also has the highest rate of gun related deaths in the developed world.  It’s a shocking public safety problem, and it’s caused by the fact that the Constitution of the Unitied States says that the government cannot curtail its citizens’ right to bear arms.

Many constitutional scholars say that the 2nd Amendment does not really mean that individuals can arm themselves. Rather, they say, it simply stops the Federal Government from preventing the formation of militia.  The authors of that text were, after all, mindful of tyrannies, dictatorships and unchecked state violence. Continue reading “On Gun Ownership, Nothing Less Than Repeal of the 2nd Amendment Will Do”

Daryl Gregory wins Shirley Jackson novella award

Snubbed. Overlooked. Passed over. Ignored. Crash and burn. Disrespected. Insulted. Shunned. Neglected. Ostracised. Scorned. Rebuffed. Upstaged. Blackballed. Thrown shade. I did not win the Shirley Jackson Award for best novella.

Snubbed. Overlooked. Passed over. Ignored. Crash and burn. Disrespected. Insulted. Shunned. Neglected. Ostracised. Scorned. Rebuffed. Upstaged. Blackballed. Thrown shade.  I did not win the Shirley Jackson Award for best novella.
Continue reading “Daryl Gregory wins Shirley Jackson novella award”

Flags Matter

A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems: its public transit, its parks, its signage.

Flags are symbols, full of historical meaning.  Just ask Emily Thornberry.

Following the despicable shootings in Charleston, South Carolina last week, there has been renewed debate over the Confederate Flag, the banner under which the secessionist Southern states fought the American Civil War.  Some people claim that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern culture and ‘heritage’— that flying that flag is merely an expression of an independent, libertarian spirit.  But that is disingenuous.  The Confederate cause was explicitly racist, about fighting for the right to subjugate black people.  Ta-Nehisi Coate catalogues the unequivocal words of those men who rallied their fellows to the ideology of white supremacy, and argues “Take Down The Confederate Flag—Now“.   The recent discussion has unearthed this article by Christopher Hitches from 2008, where he excorates the former Governor of Arkansas and (at the time) Presidential Candidate Mick Huckabee for lauding those who would fly the Confederate flag.  A “straightforward racist appeal” for votes, Hitchens called it.

On a more positive note, watch this wonderful TED Talk, done in the style of a radio show, by Roman Mars (my favourite podcaster).  His show, 99% Invisible, is all about design, and the talk is about the importance of flag design.

Roman outlines the principles of good flag design, draws attention to some good city flags, some bad city flags, and some truly terrible city flags.  He also explains why we should care.

A well-designed flag could be seen as an indicator of how a city considers all of its design systems: its public transit, its parks, its signage. It might seem frivolous, but it’s not. .. Often when city leaders say, “We have more important things to do than worry about a city flag,” my response is, “If you had a great city flag, you would have a banner for people to rally under to face those more important things.”

 

Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?

A couple of people have asked me my opinion on an article published on Vox this week.  Writing anonymously, a university lecturer laments the entitled, consumerist tendency amongst his students, which means that they complain whenever they are exposed to ideas or opinions that make them uncomfortable.  The article carried hyperlinks to examples where academics—both students and in some cases teachers—have successfully shut down discussion or caused events to be cancelled because they were deemed ‘offensive’ or upsetting.

If this is a real trend then it’s appalling.  As I and others have argued previously and constantly, there are numerous benefits to having offensive statements made openly.  Such statements can be countered and challenged on the one hand; but they may actually have some merit and change minds and morality (for example, women’s suffrage or gay marriage).  Offence can shock people out of complacency, or be the only thing that makes people question traditional values and the structure of their society.  Finally, it’s far better to have offensive views out in the open, rather than driven underground where they can fester and grow, and where those who have been censored can claim to be a ‘free speech martyr’.

I do want to raise a few aspects of the article that give me pause for thought, however. Continue reading “Academic self-censorship: is  ‘offence culture’ really the problem?”

Round-up: Charlie Hebdo and the PEN Courage Award

Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication. But even if it was, its stand against fundamentalist religion took courage and should be applauded.

Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication. But even if it was, its stand against fundamentalist religion took courage and should be applauded.

Freedom of expression is being debated yet again, and this time my colleagues at the PEN American Center are in the middle of the discussion.  Six of its members have withdrawn as ‘literary hosts’ from the annual fundraising gala, in protest at the decision to award Charlie Hebdo a ‘Freedom of Expression Courage’ award.

In the New York Times, Peter Carey, one of the boycotting authors, is quoted as saying:

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?”

Salman Rushdie was also quoted in the New York Times piece, defending the award:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Continue reading “Round-up: Charlie Hebdo and the PEN Courage Award”

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report needs to be converted to HTML, pronto

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has release a shocking report into the CIA use of torture during America’s post-9/11 panic.  The New York Times has a handy 7 point summary, pointing out that the torture was more brutal and extensive than previously supposed, that it was ineffective, and that CIA officials lied to Congress and made exaggerated claims to journalists about the effectiveness of the programme.

Its truly sickening and should not have happened.  The USA is supposed to be better.  It has set a terrible example to brutal human rights abusing regimes like Iran.  Ayatollah Khameni has been pointing out America’s hypocrisy.

It looks like the United Kingdom might have been complicit in the torture programme too.

For those of us who want to read the full report, a 525-page PDF version is available on the webspace of Senator Diane Feinstein.

Plenty of journalists have been writing about the report.  Andrew Sullivan has ‘live-blogged’ his reading of it.  When they do cite a paragraph, they can’t link directly to it.  It strikes me that far more people would be able to read an engae with the report if it were in HTML format.  This is a ‘live’ example of the principle behind my Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report should be converted to HTML as soon as possible, preferably hosted by a civil liberties NGO or a newspaper.  It took me a while to convert the Leveson Report into HTML but a crowdsourced effort could convert this torture report in a matter of days, if not hours.