Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jeffrey Goldberg :


As I wrote last week, there's very little Israel's right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state -- and the absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? If it grants them the vote, this will be the end of Israel as a Jewish state; if it denies them the vote in perpetuity, it will cease to be a democratic state.
The New York Times has a great piece on why global warming gives us cold weather by Judah Cohen. It's a good idea because you're always hearing people chuckling about "wot global warming?" or seriously assuming the cold winters we've been having is some kind of evidence against climate change.

Unfortunately, it's gone behind a paywall, but I think you should read it anyway, so I'm just going to quote the whole damned thing. (Sorry NYT)

THE earth continues to get warmer, yet it’s feeling a lot colder outside. Over the past few weeks, subzero temperatures in Poland claimed 66 lives; snow arrived in Seattle well before the winter solstice, and fell heavily enough in Minneapolis to make the roof of the Metrodome collapse; and last week blizzards closed Europe’s busiest airports in London and Frankfurt for days, stranding holiday travelers. The snow and record cold have invaded the Eastern United States, with more bad weather predicted.

All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.

How can we reconcile this? The not-so-obvious short answer is that the overall warming of the atmosphere is actually creating cold-weather extremes. Last winter, too, was exceptionally snowy and cold across the Eastern United States and Eurasia, as were seven of the previous nine winters.

For a more detailed explanation, we must turn our attention to the snow in Siberia.

Annual cycles like El Niño/Southern Oscillation, solar variability and global ocean currents cannot account for recent winter cooling. And though it is well documented that the earth’s frozen areas are in retreat, evidence of thinning Arctic sea ice does not explain why the world’s major cities are having colder winters.

But one phenomenon that may be significant is the way in which seasonal snow cover has continued to increase even as other frozen areas are shrinking. In the past two decades, snow cover has expanded across the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Siberia, just north of a series of exceptionally high mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, the Tien Shan and the Altai.

The high topography of Asia influences the atmosphere in profound ways. The jet stream, a river of fast-flowing air five to seven miles above sea level, bends around Asia’s mountains in a wavelike pattern, much as water in a stream flows around a rock or boulder. The energy from these atmospheric waves, like the energy from a sound wave, propagates both horizontally and vertically.

As global temperatures have warmed and as Arctic sea ice has melted over the past two and a half decades, more moisture has become available to fall as snow over the continents. So the snow cover across Siberia in the fall has steadily increased.

The sun’s energy reflects off the bright white snow and escapes back out to space. As a result, the temperature cools. When snow cover is more abundant in Siberia, it creates an unusually large dome of cold air next to the mountains, and this amplifies the standing waves in the atmosphere, just as a bigger rock in a stream increases the size of the waves of water flowing by.

The increased wave energy in the air spreads both horizontally, around the Northern Hemisphere, and vertically, up into the stratosphere and down toward the earth’s surface. In response, the jet stream, instead of flowing predominantly west to east as usual, meanders more north and south. In winter, this change in flow sends warm air north from the subtropical oceans into Alaska and Greenland, but it also pushes cold air south from the Arctic on the east side of the Rockies. Meanwhile, across Eurasia, cold air from Siberia spills south into East Asia and even southwestward into Europe.

That is why the Eastern United States, Northern Europe and East Asia have experienced extraordinarily snowy and cold winters since the turn of this century. Most forecasts have failed to predict these colder winters, however, because the primary drivers in their models are the oceans, which have been warming even as winters have grown chillier. They have ignored the snow in Siberia.

Last week, the British government asked its chief science adviser for an explanation. My advice to him is to look to the east.

It’s all a snow job by nature. The reality is, we’re freezing not in spite of climate change but because of it.

Judah Cohen is the director of seasonal forecasting at an atmospheric and environmental research firm.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm reading some absolutely fascinating articles about neo-folk, apoliteic music and attempts to build a fascist, green, anarchist synthesis.

Very confusing and scary. Like Michael Barkun's "improvisational millennialism" without the flying saucers (yet).

Fits right in to conspiracy theories and netocracy though, doesn't it?

Further thought. Is hauntology a kind of left-wing apoliteic music? With the myths of a cosy, Reithian, paternal modernism replacing the the folk-tradition celebrated by the rightists?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wow!

Unbelievable how powerful the "vast right wing conspiracy which we pretend isn't there even though it's in front of our fucking eyes" is.

Let's get this straight. Vince says he's at war with Murdoch. (Which is the ONLY sane way for any politician to understand his or her job today. Ie. any politician who hopes to represent the electorate rather than a bunch of oligarchs needs to understand that he or she is in conflict with Murdoch.)

He's then turfed out of the job that gives him any power at all over Murdoch (ie. to block the deal to allow M. to buy the rest of Sky).

But he's left with power over higher-education (ie. all the shit that comes from trying make hugely unpopular cuts.)

Shame on Labour for making political capital by criticising Cable for this. They should have got behind him, emphasizing that Murdoch is the problem.
Q: You want to change the world?

JA: Absolutely. The world has a lot of problems and they need to be reformed. And we only live once. Every person who has some ability to do something about it, if they are a person of good character, has the duty to try and fix the problems in the environment which they're in.
That is a value, that, yes, comes partly from my temperament. There is also a value that comes from my father, which is that capable, generous men don't create victims, they try and save people from becoming victims. That is what they are tasked to do. If they do not do that they are not worthy of respect or they are not capable.


Bravo! I read this and wanted to cheer loudly.

Well done! Too often wanting to change the world is seen as either a youthful naivity or a sign of messianic self-importance. Julian Assange tells it like it is : it's the duty of all people of good faith.
La Bombacion - Funk Chicks (Bulgarian Chicks Remix) by La Bombacion

STOP PRESS : More music links.

Bulgarian Chicks (Balkan Beat Box) meets Baile Funk. I am literally in ecstasy over this. Via Generation Bass
Music links

I like this.

And all these.

Interesting rejection of fascism and neo-folk.
Glenn Greenwald :

That's the mindset of the U.S. Government: everything it does of any significance can and should be shielded from public view; anyone who shines light on what it does is an Enemy who must be destroyed; but nothing you do should be beyond its monitoring and storing eyes. And what's most remarkable about this -- though, given the full-scale bipartisan consensus over it, not surprising -- is how eagerly submissive much of the citizenry is to this imbalance. Many Americans plead with their Government in unison: we demand that you know everything about us but that you keep us ignorant about what you do and punish those who reveal it to us. Often, this kind of oppressive Surveillance State has to be forcibly imposed on a resistant citizenry, but much of the frightened American citizenry -- led by most transparency-hating media figures -- has been trained with an endless stream of fear-mongering to demand that they be subjected to more and more of it.


Update (a coda from same piece) :


Joe Biden not only voted for the Iraq War, but was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2002 as the Senate authorized that attack, one which resulted in the deaths of well over 100,000 innocent human beings and which was launched under the strategic banner of "Shock and Awe," designed explicitly to terrorize Iraqis out of resisting through the use of a massive display of urban devastation. Julian Assange has never authorized any violence, never killed anyone, never advocated killing anyone, and never threatened anyone's death. Yet the former can accuse the latter of being close to a "high-tech terrorist" without many people batting an eye -- illustrating, yet again, what a meaningless and manipulated term "Terrorism" is; to the extent it means anything, its definition is this: "those who impede or defy American will with any degree of efficacy."
A typical day for Bradley Manning

Monday, December 20, 2010

More excellent writing about the wider context of wikileaks. This time on its implication for the US government's promotion of "internet freedom" as a foreign policy tool.
thiscantbehappening :

Assange's lawyers have said they have learned that the Obama Justice (sic) Department has impaneled a secret federal Grand Jury in Virginia to develop charges against Assange, most likely under the hoary and antiquated 1917 Espionage Act.

Because that act has never been used against a journalist or news organization, and because it would be fairly easy to make the case that Assange and WikiLeaks are performing a journalistic function protected by the First Amendment, legal experts say the government, to make any kind of a case, would have to prove that Assange had induced Manning to illegally turn over government documents to WikiLeaks.

...

Both Assange, in public statements, and Manning, in transcripts published by the magazine Wired, have stated clearly that there was no such relationship. Manning has said that he volunteered the documents out of a heartfelt whistleblower's desire to make public evidence of what he felt were war crimes by US forces, in the case of the Iraq and Afghanistan materials. There is no reason to think that his motive and methods would have been any different with respect to the State Department cables. There was no mention of his having been sought out or encouraged in his alleged activity by WikiLeaks, which only provided the vehicle for making any leaks public.

But with Manning having been held in solitary confinement now for more than seven months--first in a brig in Kuwait and now at Quantico--under conditions that are reminiscent of those that were used against alleged "dirty bomb" wannabe Jose Padilla, which drove him certifiably insane--it seems obvious what the government is up to.

Convicting Pvt. Manning on a charge of disclosing government secrets, stealing government documents, or even of treason, would be child's play in a court martial setting, where the jury would be composed of uniformed officers. Furthermore, it would not be much of a big deal, convicting a private of stealing and revealing government documents. But taking down WikiLeaks, and convicting Assange, who has been embarrassing the US and other secretive governments by doing what a real news media should have been doing? Ah, that would be a very big deal--one which would make a compliant US media even more compliant.

And to accomplish that feat, in the face of the First Amendment which guarantees Freedom of the Press, all the government would need to do is "prove" that Assange induced, or perhaps even paid Pvt. Manning to provide those documents.

Hence the torture.

In an article in Salon magazine, Glenn Greenwald reports that Manning is being kept in his cell, completely alone, for 23 hours a day. He is denied the right to exercise, has been denied a pillow or sheets for his bed, and is being administered anti-depressant "medication" involuntarily. He is barred from most outside contact, but one friend, David House, a 23-year-old MIT researcher who is a friend, according to Greenwald has said he has observed "palpable changes in Manning's physical appearance and behavior just over the course of the several months that he's been visiting him."

I suspect the goal in all this is to soften-up Manning, and to eventually "turn" him into a witness against Assange and WikiLeaks.

Again, in an American court--especially in a state like Virginia--a case of Manning's word against Assange's word would be pretty open-and-shut for a typical jury, which might be expected to show little concern about evidence that Manning had been tortured in captivity before being brought in to testify.

It is urgent that Americans who care about the Constitutional right to a fair trial, who care about the preservation of the First Amendment's freedom of the press, and who care about basic human rights and the need to outlaw torture here, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, demand that Pvt. Manning be released from his inhumane solitary confinement. He is an accused person, not a convicted criminal, and has by all accounts been a model prisoner. If the government thinks it has a case against him, it should bring him to trial with appropriate dispatch, and not try to pressure him into providing false witness against Assange. If it doesn't have a case, it should release Manning immediately!


(My emphasis)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Interesting theses on wikileaks.
Well done to The Guardian for giving further clarification of the case against Assange.

I guess this was a difficult decision to make, given that we need to keep supporting wikileaks (especially given the mounting likelihood of US legal action against it and Assange; further attacks from Bank of America; and the likelihood that wikileaks has important information to reveal about Bank of America or similar institution at the beginning of next year.)

At the same time, there are too many assumptions flying around that the accusations against Assange must be groundless, simply because he has the right enemies. And, worse, that his accusers must be part of a conspiracy against him.

Neither need be true. And the more we hear about the case, the less likely that really sounds. (Having said that, it could, of course, be a really clever conspiracy).

I'm inclined to believe it is a catastrophically unfortunate collision between Assange's behaviour, which was unacceptable if it's as reported, but nevertheless a behaviour which often goes legally unremarked in our society; and a Swedish legal system which is trying change that.

Does that mean that I think Assange should be extradited to Sweden for the charges to be heard?

Frankly, I'm in a fiendish dilemma. I think that, if guilty, it may be quite right that Assange goes to prison for his behaviour. And yet there is no government in the world that I would trust to be allowed to imprison him.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dave Winer publishes WikiRiver, a river-of-wikileaks-news.
Guardian :
An analysis of local authority documents reveals that the number of council redundancies directly resulting from the coalition's austerity measures is expected to break the 100,000 mark by early in the new year, fuelled by the swingeing cuts announced this week to councils' budgets and the pressure to start cutting before the new financial year in April.


Update : Meanwhile, the government's smash-and-grab raid on the state continues, as it rushes to hand over serious powers to Britain's oligarchs.

A number of business heavyweights were appointed as non-executive directors to beefed-up boards of government departments to help the coalition implement its efficiency drive.

For the first time, boards will be able to ask the prime minister to sack permanent secretaries, the most senior civil servants, if they fail to fulfil their mandates, such as meeting departmental budget targets.
OMFG!

Cheap printed autonomous fliers.

We are racing towards a zero-privacy future.
Dilbert.com

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I sometimes say that Rupert Murdoch has more blood on his hands over the Iraq War than George Bush.

I'm not being facetious. I really believe that. And I really believe that Rupert Murdoch is the nastiest, most dangerous piece of excrement we have the misfortune to have living on our planet today. He has indirectly caused the deaths of more people than Hitler and Stalin, together, could imagine in their wildest dreams, and if people really, one day, understand how the world works, generations of our descendants will curse his name.
One of my end-of-term courseworks ...

Your Window Right : The Hundertwasser Makeover Kit





Another pretty great Die Antwoord video:



NOT work-safe.

A couple of thoughts.

I like Diplo. Wonderful first album, done a lot of great stuff. Knows what's what. But, frankly, Die Antwoord are one of the few acts seriously awesome enough that they don't need him. Feels like he's carpet-bagging here. They don't need his production; nor his video antics when they're as good as they are by themselves.

Also, not liking Wanga's desperate homophobic wittering on about how straight and "clean" he is. Meh!

Monday, December 13, 2010

K-Punk : WINTER OF DISCONTENT 2.0: NOTES ON A MONTH OF MILITANCY
Lots of new leaking sites.

Some have been around for a while, some are new.

There are complaints about wikileaks, some of which seem valid - ie. it may be an issue that the sign-up for for your mirror-site to be automatically updated from wikileaks is sent plaintext.

However, most criticisms of wikileaks don't matter. It's wikileaks which has inspired this wave of imitators. It's wikileaks which has goaded existing whistleblower sites to up their game. And it's Assange who has created the "plausible premise" that support for leaks is a forceful political action, capable of striking fear into the most powerful conspiracies on earth.

Remember the wikileaks slogan : "courage is contagious", which seems increasingly profound now.
Interesting :

It took a libertine to prove that information enriched the functioning of British society, a brave maverick who was constantly moving house – and sometimes country – to avoid arrest; whose epic sexual adventures had been used by the authorities as a means of entrapping and imprisoning him. The London mob came out in his favour and, supplemented by shopkeepers and members of the gentry on horseback, finally persuaded the establishment of the time to accept that publication was inevitable. And the kingdom did not fall.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

More good stuff from Jay Rosen
Interesting times :

(via)

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to work out my position on the Anonymous attacks on those who've done wikileaks wrong over the last few days.

A couple of random points.

1) Despite what parts of the media are saying, wikileaks themselves are not behind the attacks. They've even sort of distanced themselves from them, kinda.

That's fair enough, wikileaks has a particular mission and a particular "modus operandi". Random DDoS is not it.

2) I think, on balance, I'm happy to see people acquiring both the tools and the will to attack financial institutions.

3) OTOH, I'm not convinced that the current DDoS attacks against MasterCard etc. are particularly important. Wikileaks, I believe, is acting significantly both at the tactical and strategic levels. And there's a real chance of a lasting effect from their actions.

I'm not sure if the same is true of Anonymous. As far as I can tell, so far, they're merely a temporary nuisance which lasts only as long as the attack takes place. And there seems no strategy except demonstrably "punishing" those who worked against or criticised wikileaks.

4) Having said that, it is impressive that they can flash a large group to act in a concerted way in defence of wikileaks. I'm also intrigued from the glimpses given by news media of the decision making process inside such a disorganization.

It's possible that Anonymous are, themselves, rapidly evolving and will be innovating more profound actions in the near future.

5) It's also interesting that a rival leaking site is springing up.

John Robb predicted in a tweet a few days ago that both external and internal forces would remove Assange from the picture. From a Robbian perspective, taking wikileaks as an "open source insurgency", Assange's role is to provide a "plausible premise" and then sit back and watch others pick up the idea and run with it. If Assange himself becomes a problem (either too discredited or too much of a bottleneck), then we expect the bazaar to route around him.

Assange's plausible premise is that leaks can get out to the public, that leaks can be effective, and that whistleblowers can be kept anonymous and safe. He's largely managed to prove that.

6) Even though the "spirit of wikileaks" may now go on without Assange, we shouldn't underestimate what he achieved. There are those who complain that he was too much of a self-publicist. More interested in his own glory than those of the leakers. That he didn't keep a low enough profile.

This is patently absurd. Assange has been a master showman and promoter of the idea of leaks. He's achieved world-wide notoriety for "his" leaks; he's ensured they're appearing on the front page of half the world's media, pretty much every day; he's inspired over a thousand people to put up mirror sites and many more to share the information via bittorrent; he's built a network of connections and collaborators in many of the world's newspapers, and (true to the wikileaks slogan that "courage is contagious") inspired the media to review its own failures.

I welcome "OpenLeaks", Cryptome etc. But don't believe for a moment that they're somehow doing a better job than Assange is by making themselves less controversial.

7) Even if I'm a supporter of Wikileaks and an admirer of Assange for his role, I don't have any opinion on whether he's a rapist or not. His greatness in one arena does not give him a free pass in another. I'm against the misogynist crap that people are throwing at his accusers.

8) Even if Assange is guilty of rape to a degree deserving of serious imprisonment we should still resist the idea that he should be extradited to the US. The US is no longer a country in which we can have faith that the rule of law or human rights will be protected. It is guilty of torture and imprisoning people without trial for years. It has politicians openly advocating Assange's murder. And a constitution which is no longer respected by the ruling elits. It ought to be on the black-list of countries from which we accept asylum seekers.
Hard to know what to say about the massive fucked-up-ness of this :

The leadership of the Big 4 audit firms in the UK has admitted that they did not issue “going concern” opinions because they were told by government officials, confidentially, that the banks would be bailed out.


Ie. the auditors who's job was to assess whether the banks were going bust, didn't warn that they were going bust, because they knew that the banks would be rescued!!!!

WTF??? My head is hurting. This is like someone left Karl Pilkington in charge!

Update : BTW, I just noticed that word "confidentially" in the above quote. Why confidentially? If the government wanted to signal that it was willing to support the banks, why not do it in public? Instead we have them secretly saying that they'll support them to the auditors so the auditors can then cover up the fact that the banks are in trouble in the first place!

"silence like a cancer grows".

This is why we need wikileaks.
Why auditors are NOT being held accountable for the economic crises.
My friend Oli's summing up of the issue of student fees :

You raise taxes against things as a disincentive to consumption (eg. cigarettes, alcohol). If you raise taxes against education, you decrease consumption of it. Is this what you want to be doing when the economy needs to be increasing productivity and creating more high-value products and services to be globally competitive?

It's seductive. I can't help noticing that the same argument could be used to argue that we shouldn't be taxing anything we approve of (eg. paying people salaries). And I'm not sure I want, ultimately, to accept that the arguments for or against education must be reduced to questions of national economic interest. But putting aside such caveats for a moment, I agree.
Quickileaks :

PayPal's lameness.

Wikileaks' resilience.

Good post :
Assange has revealed the deep contradiction between traditional liberal-democratic values regarding transparent and accountable government, and the existence of a U.S. empire on the other. Revealing this contradiction seriously undercuts the practice of business as usual in American foreign policy. This is what is so unforgivable.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Here's a great post, covering (in more depth) some of the themes I touched on here.

The diplomat in question gave an interview some months ago :

But anyway, here’s the part where the story he told a year ago starts to diverge from his story of last week:

I would go out every couple of months to silently bear witness, to talk to the nuns very furtively, to find out what the latest atrocity was, (or human rights abuse), to record what was actually happening on the ground and report that back up to Ottawa and our permanent mission in New York. It was very depressing and very upsetting, and a very futile exercise as a junior diplomat.


Catch all that? Reporting atrocities to Ottawa was a “futile exercise”; instead of giving his government “the ammunition it needed,” Gilmore’s point is that recording what was actually happening on the ground was “to bear silent witness,” an experience of the uselessness of diplomacy which upset and depressed him. He’s telling a story of his disillusionment with the foreign service.


Wow!

Nice conclusion too.


I don’t know how to highly to value that proof; I’m not sure whether Wikileaks just adds to a store of knowledge that we already have or if it represents something new. But the idea that it’s a bad thing to know more about the how the governments that act in our names actually behave is laughable, and the idea that impeding their ability to act secretly prevents them from advancing the cause of justice and human rights, it seems to me, is utterly without merit. There may be a human rights argument against what Wikileaks does; it may be that they’ve been sloppy in the data they’ve released. But given how many times I’ve seen that charge laid at their feet, and how completely unsupported by any credible evidence it has been, without exception, I’m not willing to give people like Gilmore the benefit of the doubt. If anyone has actual examples of a time when government secrecy was used for something other than exerting force in support of self-interest, I’d like to hear it. But until then, I’m going to continue to assume, as usual, that the only check on the amorality of the state is a moral citizenry. And the only way that citizens can act as a check on the state’s amorality is when they know what their government is doing. Hiding cables from the public does the opposite of accomplishing that.
Emily Bell :

Wikileaks has ignited a debate about the rights and responsibilities attached to freeing information.It has illustrated that Governments, however well intentioned, do not have the best judgement in terms of what it is right for citizens to know. It has shown that the established media no longer necessarily gets to make that call either, and forces us all to think about the consequences of that shift.
Read Johann Hari.

This is about as perfect an opinion piece about wikileaks as it's possible to write.
A quick comment I made over here.

People always complain that wikileaks is secretive, has no accountability and acts like a law unto itself. But wikileaks is entirely dependent on people of conscience being willing to leak to it, and gets a great deal of its legitimacy from working closely with mainstream newspapers.

If wikileaks stopped doing a good job, important leaks would almost immediately stop flowing to it.

And if some rogue troublemakers still leaked mere tittle-tattle, then papers like The Guardian and New York Times would soon distance themselves from it.

Compare those two powerful checks and balances to the very weak checks and balances that any institution now exerts over the US and UK governments and I can tell you which I feel safer with.
Further report on the rape case against Julian Assange.

It's starting to look more like cock-up than conspiracy.
Chris Floyd :

What is perhaps most remarkable is that this joint action by the world elite to shut down WikiLeaks – which has been operating for four years – comes after the release of diplomatic cables, not in response to earlier leaks which provided detailed evidence of crimes and atrocities committed by the perpetrators and continuers of Washington’s Terror War. I suppose this is because the diplomatic cables have upset the smooth running of the corrupt and cynical backroom operations that actually govern our world, behind the ludicrous lies and self-righteous posturing that our great and good lay on for the public. They didn’t mind being unmasked as accomplices in mass murder and fomenters of suffering and hatred; in fact, they were rather proud of it. And they certainly knew that their fellow corruptocrats in foreign governments – not to mention the perpetually stunned and supine American people – wouldn’t give a toss about a bunch of worthless peons in Iraq and Afghanistan getting killed. But the diplomatic cables have caused an embarrassing stink among the closed little clique of the movers and shakers. And that is a crime deserving of vast eons in stir – or death.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Julian Assange's rape charges may be more serious.

In the most details yet released about the allegations, Ms Lindfield said that in the cases of both women the allegations related to him refusing to wear a condom during sex. He was also accused of having sex with one of the women by exploiting the fact that she was asleep, and another count said that he had held a woman's arms and forced open her legs so he could have sex with her.


Update : Good article at The Guardian
Read Julian Assange's opinion piece today.
So Julian Assange is arrested. And not granted bail.

Anyone want to give odds on the likelihood of him a) being extradited to Sweden, b) then being extradited to the US? c) then being sent off to Guantanamo Bay for an indefinite period of extra-legal torture and imprisonment?

The thing is, the second and third are unimaginable. We think "this couldn't possibly happen". The Swedes wouldn't let it. The US wouldn't really have the face (or "bad taste" or something) to do it.

The problem is, while I still find it unthinkable, we know that the unthinkable has been happening over and over recently. Why would the US not try to get Sweden to give him up? Why would US diplomats who already pressurized Germany not to investigate and prosecute CIA operatives over extraordinary rendition, not feel like pushing for Assange to be given to them? Why would Obama, with his hands on the next best public enemy to Osama Bin Laden, not feel pressurized by a rampant Republican Congress, mass right-wing wing uprising and Fox News, to toss them Assange as a distraction?

I feel frustrated and angry with myself for succumbing to such paranoid fantasies. This must be mere romanticizing and scare-mongering. And yet I don't know where to find the surety to comfort me that such events are impossible.

While on the subject of paranoia, there's an interesting quote that's been going around recently from Evgeny Morozov in the Financial Times.

There are two paths [wikileaks] could now take. One would see a radical global network systematically challenging those in power – governments & companies alike – just for the sake of undermining “the system”. Its current quest for transparency, however sloppily executed, could soon become an exercise in anger, one leak at a time. Alternatively, WikiLeaks could continue moving in the more sensible direction that, in some ways, it is already on: collaborating with traditional media, redacting sensitive files, & offering those in a position to know about potential victims of releases the chance to vet the data. It is a choice between WikiLeaks becoming a new Red Brigades, or a new Transparency International. And forcing Mr Assange to go down the former route would have far more disastrous implications for American interests than anything revealed by the current dump of diplomatic cables.


The proposal is interesting, but one thing nags me. If you were a government (or better yet, a conspiracy of the powerful, networked across governments) who were afraid of everything wikileaks represented and determined to stamp it out, which would you rather it became? A discredited, violent, almost universally reviled, group of romantic failures? Or a respected, diligent, permanent feature of the political reality? Would you rather wikileaks burned itself out in a spasm of indignant attacks on privacy, winning world-wide enmity? Or would you rather it became a permanent new check on the abuses committed by those in power?

In other words, I think there's very little chance indeed that Assange will be treated well by the authorities in order to help stabilize and normalize the relations between wikileaks and world governments.

Just saying ...
More scenarios for the decline of the US empire.
The Guardian :
MasterCard also said it would block payments to WikiLeaks, according to the Cnet News website, a move that will dry up another source of funds for the website. "MasterCard is taking action to ensure that WikiLeaks can no longer accept MasterCard-branded products," a spokesman for MasterCard Worldwide said yesterday.


Assange is apparently going to court today. I wonder where.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Here's a plausible problem with the wikileaks publications. Have a read of it before continuing here.

In this case, a Canadian diplomat stationed in Indonesia passes information and photographs of atrocities committed by the Indonesian government against the Timorese back to Canada, which allows the Canadian government to pressurize the Indonesian government for greater human rights. In the short term, if communication secrecy is violated, the witnesses risk being killed. And the diplomat expelled. In the longer term, witnesses are unlikely to come forward and Canadian diplomats cannot get involved in helping locals.

So what do I think of this?

At first glance, it is a real problem. And I'm not sure I have an answer to it. This does count against wikileaks.

But let's, for the sake of playing devil's advocate for a moment, have a go at challenging it.

Why exactly do we need diplomats in the loop here?

Those of us who are pro-wikileaks are also pro the general democratization of communication and publishing technologies. We are not against personal privacy tools (such as encryption). In a world where both transparency technologies and personal privacy are becoming widespread, the obvious way for the Timorese to draw attention to the abuses is by leaking or publishing them directly. (To wikileaks or equivalent channels.)

Hence, in our imagined "better future", there would be a trade-off. The teacher would lose the support of the Canadian diplomat in getting the message out, but would gain the possibility of a global network.

But might not the Canadian government be less likely to pay attention to her plight if it was not alerted via its own staff? An argument could be made that Canada would be indifferent if the information was just circulating freely on teh interwebs rather than directly brought to it by its own diplomats.

This raises a rather awkward question of what Canada actually did do in East Timor as a result of the diplomat's reports.

Frankly, I have no idea, but a quick grep for "Canada" at Wikipedia doesn't exactly ... well, here's what it says :

Britain, Canada, Japan, and other nations supported Indonesia during the occupation of East Timor. Britain abstained from all of the UN General Assembly resolutions relating to East Timor, and sold arms throughout the occupation. In 1978 Indonesia purchased eight BAE Hawk jet trainers, which were used during the "encirclement and annihilation" campaign. Britain sold dozens of additional jets to Indonesia in the 1990s.[195] Canada abstained from early General Assembly resolutions about East Timor, and opposed three. The Canadian government regularly sold weapons to Indonesia during the occupation, and in the 1990s approved over CDN$400 million in exports for spare weapons parts.[196]


In other words, while our undoubtedly well-meaning and brave hero was diligently collecting and documenting evidence of torture and murder to be sent back home, the Canadian government didn't give a fuck about human rights abuses and allowed its policy to be driven by the needs of its arms manufacturers.

This, I think, is what we should keep in mind during the coming days of chatter over how diplomats will no longer be able to defend human rights like they used to. It's pretty unclear that they ever did much for human rights in the first place. And the next oppressed and tortured minority might be better off uploading evidence directly to Twitterpics rather than going via such channels.

Like I say, though. I really know nothing about what Canada did to promote human rights in Indonesia as a result of its diplomats. Please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.
Very good comment at The Economist:

The basic question is not whether we think Julian Assange is a terrorist or a hero. The basic question certainly is not whether we think exposing the chatter of the diplomatic corps helps or hinders their efforts, and whether this is a good or bad thing. To continue to focus on these questions is to miss the forest for the texture of the bark on a single elm. If we take the inevitability of future large leaks for granted, then I think the debate must eventually centre on the things that will determine the supply of leakers and leaks. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals the sense of justice which would embolden them to challenge the institutions that control our fate by bringing their secrets to light. Some of us wish to encourage in individuals ever greater fealty and submission to corporations and the state in order to protect the privileges and prerogatives of the powerful, lest their erosion threaten what David Brooks calls "the fragile community"—our current, comfortable dispensation.
Must-listen Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen. Rosen comes out with some killer points.
Nice line from anon in Jay Rosen's comments for discussion of JAnthony's question to Julian Assange :


we'll see at COP16, international diplomacy - in the state it's in - is not going to help humanity transcend to where we need to be as an international community.


I hope it's not true. But I fear that it will be. There really is a question overhanging what good international diplomacy is doing at the moment.
Like Jay Rosen I'm disappointed with Julian Assange's answer to the question asked on The Guardian's site :

JAnthony

I am a former British diplomat. In the course of my former duties I helped to coordinate multilateral action against a brutal regime in the Balkans, impose sanctions on a renegade state threatening ethnic cleansing, and negotiate a debt relief programme for an impoverished nation. None of this would have been possible without the security and secrecy of diplomatic correspondence, and the protection of that correspondence from publication under the laws of the UK and many other liberal and democratic states. An embassy which cannot securely offer advice or pass messages back to London is an embassy which cannot operate. Diplomacy cannot operate without discretion and the protection of sources. This applies to the UK and the UN as much as the US.

In publishing this massive volume of correspondence, Wikileaks is not highlighting specific cases of wrongdoing but undermining the entire process of diplomacy. If you can publish US cables then you can publish UK telegrams and UN emails.

My question to you is: why should we not hold you personally responsible when next an international crisis goes unresolved because diplomats cannot function.


However, I think there can be "morally serious" responses to the question.

To start, although this is a fight about ideals, it's also embedded in a historical moment and certain actions and beliefs may be appropriate to the time and situation. In particular, the US and UK governments (among others) are known, over the last ten years, to have conspired in secret to mislead their own populations to favour starting unjustified wars, have been known to hand their own citizens over to barbaric regimes to be tortured, and have been known to pressurize other countries to co-operate with this. By the known character of the institutions we are dealing with, we would be naive and irresponsible to trust them when they claim that their secrecy is necessary and warranted to help them to do good..

While we may very well see the argument that diplomacy requires secrecy in the abstract, at this point in time, the burden of proof is very much on JAnthony to show that the secrecy he wants is both required to achieve what good he claims to have achieved and will not be abused further.

For example, why should we accept that secrecy was necessary to "impose sanctions on a renegade state threatening ethnic cleansing"? Isn't this something that can plausibly be co-ordinated in public? Countries point at the intention to ethnically cleanse and, in joint outrage, agree to impose sanctions?

Perhaps this seems naive, and likely is, but only if we accept that, in fact, the sanctions are not motivated by moral outrage but through a certain amount of horse-trading between countries. In which case, we are now in a far murkier situation. Were concessions and deals offered to the parties involved? Did the good of the sanctions agreed really justify the concessions and incentives? What exactly was offered? Arms sales? Preferential trade-deals? Back-handers? What country are we talking about at this point? Without details of the negotiations, how can we judge? And why should we allow this to take place if we can't have an informed opinion?

The idea that secrecy is necessary to co-ordinate good actions only makes sense against a backdrop of cynical assumptions that national governments are irredeemably bad and must be bribed to behave properly. One very good argument in favour of wikileaks is that it strikes against such a cynicism. The world will be a far better place if national governments only join together to fight wars or impose sanctions or sign trade-agreements when each government genuinely and transparently believes these things to be in the interest of its own people, and not because it is receiving bribes, or foreign support for its faction in an internal conflict, or because the industries represented by the richest lobbyists want a big trade deal.

Similarly JAnthony's debt relief. Why on earth do this in secret? To hide what you're doing from the IMF? From international capital? ;-) The box of questions opened by revealing the assumptions of diplomats is justification itself.

When JAnthony gets to his actual question, we see similar presumption : "why should we not hold you personally responsible when next an international crisis goes unresolved because diplomats cannot function." Well, should we hold JAnthony personally responsible (as a non-leaker) when diplomats DID function and the results were international crises such as the Iraq war? Less rhetorically, what are some actual examples of international crises that have been successfully avoided by functional diplomacy in the last 10 years?

Just to re-emphasize. I am explicitly not (at this point) making an anarchist argument that nation states and national governments should not exist. Or that they do not sometimes deserve secrecy (which is tantamount to the same thing). What I am arguing, is that, the particular governments that we do have, and the particular web of international alliances and deals they've built, have forfeited our trust and do not deserve the benefit of the doubt as to whether they should be allowed to operate in secret. Ie. they should not exist in their current form.

These institutions may, indeed, be reformed into something which regains our trust and deserves our support, but two things seem likely :

a) simply replacing one party of government by another (Labour by Conservative, Republican by Democrat) does not achieve this; and

b) wikileaks is currently the most powerful weapon we have to push such reforms through.

A second sort of question arises when we consider whether wikileaks actually wants to destroy all secrecy. Wikileaks does have a history of "redacting" information that they believe would harm innocent individuals. (Though the inevitable "open-source insurgency" of imitators may not.) Assange's contention is that "bad" organizations and conspiracies will suffer higher leakage than good ones. A secretive pact to oust a colleague is more likely to be leaked than a plot for a surprise birthday party. A plan to cut baby milk with poison more likely to sting the conscience of an employee than the design of next year's product.

In this, Assange demonstrates an optimistic view of human nature, on the side of every liberal and emancipatory impulse in history that hopes the people will make wise and good use of new freedoms and powers. And his critics reveal an equally pessimistic one : the assumption that freedoms and powers will be abused if leviathan does not keep them in chains.

To repeat, the important point when assessing Assange's morality is that he isn't saying that there should be no secrets but that whistle-blowers inside institutions can be trusted to tell good from bad and to do the right thing.

Is there a moral difference between doing something yourself, and giving humans the freedom to do it? I guess you have to ask God for the definitive answer to that one. ;-)

Have any of wikileaks's own judgements been wanting? So far, nothing that I've seen seems to me to be unequivocally wrong. But I've only seen a fraction of the material. (As have the critics.)

This leads us to the third moral issue : we have no other criteria to assess this than some kind of utilitarianism. No one can say that there was no malice or self-regard involved in leaking the documents or in publishing and publicising them. No-one can promise that no harm can come of them. All we can say is that, on balance, the good outweighs the bad.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Another article on wikileaks risking lives :

In July, WikiLeaks released its most controversial leak yet, the Afghan War Diary. Unlike children playing with fire, before the release WikiLeaks’s volunteer journalists pored through the documents, trying to minimize the harm they could cause. They withheld 15,000 documents naming informants, with editor Julian Assange saying these will be reviewed “line by line” to remove the names of “innocent parties who are under reasonable threat.” Before public release, WikiLeaks provided The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel with the documents. All three newspapers decided to publish the leaks, with Der Spiegel stating that “the editors in chief of Spiegel, The New York Times and the Guardian were ‘unanimous in their belief that there is a justified public interest in the material.’”

U.S. officials responded to the massive leak by saying it endangers countless lives. But so far there is no evidence that the leak has cost a single American life, and recently a NATO official told the CNN there had not been a single case of an Afghan needing protection because of the leak. The Afghan War Diary enumerates casualties, reveals increased Taliban attacks and examines Pakistani and Iranian involvement. In view of the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars already lost in Afghanistan, the grim picture the Diary paints for the public is far more important than the unsubstantiated risks it poses to the current U.S. military effort.
Wikileaks : What are we fighting for?

I think this encapsulates it nicely.

Here's a quote from an article calling for Assange to be assassinated.

The essence of diplomacy - especially that of a great power - is the ability to conduct negotiations and hold talks in secret.


What we're fighting for is NOT that no-one should ever have secrets. What we're fighting for is to end that definition of "great". A great power should be one which exercises its power through openness and consensus, not through conspiring with elites of other countries for all governments to mislead their populations together. If the latter is the price of "great power" then great power has no right to exist.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

For a while I had a fairly pathetic joke on this blog. In US elections I asked people to vote Republican on the grounds that it would hasten the collapse of the US as a global superpower.

Somehow, I can't help thinking of that today, when reading this piece by Thomas Friedman in conjunction with this by Umair Haque.
Nice. Everyone is tweeting this :

We elect Governments not to dictate our freedoms, but to support our liberty. They serve us, we do not serve them. #imwikileaks

Good analysis of Irish bailout.
How the UK government let the banks off their social obligations in return for cheap sponsorship of their ideological project.
A SPARQL endpoint for wikileaks' Cablegate data.
Oh, by the way, it's Open Data Day :-)

Slightly ironic to be celebrating open-data when so many governments are proving how closed they'd really like to be. But nevertheless, let's celebrate the good.

Congratulations to all governments who are in the process of opening their data.
PayPal cuts line of funding to Wikileaks.

I hope my donation got through the other day.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Ethan Zuckerman :
... in this case, I think Amazon probably did a mental calculation and said, ‘if we don’t do this, we’re going to end up the subject of a boycott on Fox News, and that’s coming right before the Christmas season, we can’t afford that.’ I have no way of justifying that statement; that’s a speculation. But I understand why they might be concerned about this.
I'm not the one to judge this, but here's an interesting exchange in blog comments a couple of months ago :

subpatre says :
Wikileaks published reams of documents with the unredacted names, even home addresses and relatives names, of Afghans who opposed Talliban, supported US or NATO, or in some way helped the current government. Collaborators. These folks will now die or be tortured —really tortured, like with electric drills, battery acid, etcetera— by theBase or Talliban thugs. Not all, but most will.


Which I believe gives anyone of conscience a pause for thought.

However MMCloud asks :

Has anyone actually seen the names of Afghans listed in some of the documents? Can you point me to where they are? I can't seem to find them. My regex/grep skills were always poor


To which one BF Skinner replies :

@MMcloud "anyone actually seen the names of Afghans "
I have not. I figure the reporters at the Post and Times might have; but all I've heard from people at DoD is there 'might' or 'possibly' be such a disclosure.


Would be great to know more.

According to wikileaks supporters, the US DoD haven't been able to point to concrete examples of anyone killed due to the leaks. Undoubtedly there will be people who are made angry, for example, by revelations about the government in Yemen. And that may recruit people for Al Qaeda. But we have to ask how much the government's own deceit of its people is the root cause of such anger.
US Government witch-hunt against sites which present wikileaks data continues.

Tableau Software : Why we removed wikileaks visualizations.
I have bittorrent running, seeding Dec 2nd version of the wikileaks cables.

When I get December 3rd, I'll seed that too.

Why?

Today's useful quote, from Glenn Greenwald at Salon (links in that article) :

If there's Nothing New in these documents, can Jonathan Capehart (or any other "journalist" claiming this) please point to where The Washington Post previously reported on these facts, all revealed by the WikiLeaks disclosures:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

That's just a sampling.

This is what Joe Lieberman and his comrades are desperately trying to suppress -- literally prevent it from being accessible on the Internet. And "journalists" like Capehart play along by continuing to insist there's "nothing new" being revealed by WikiLeaks despite their never having reported any of this.


Wikileaks has been kicked off Amazon (hence, I've cleared out my Amazon basket and am boycotting it.) It's lost its domain name. US politicians are calling for Assange to be assassinated and for wikileaks to be branded a terrorist organization; while the US military has openly stated its intention to discredit and destroy wikileaks.

In other words, governments are scared.. And, as John Perry Barlow tweets it :
The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops. #WikiLeaks
Quick computer art link-bin:

Google Translate used as Drum Machine

Kinect puppetry

Open Source Musician Podcast

Robot Music Podcast

Cryptmas

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Julian Assange interviewed in Forbes (hat-tip Powers again)


What do you think WikiLeaks mean for business? How do businesses need to adjust to a world where WikiLeaks exists?


WikiLeaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this. I think about the case in China where milk powder companies started cutting the protein in milk powder with plastics. That happened at a number of separate manufacturers.

Let’s say you want to run a good company. It’s nice to have an ethical workplace. Your employees are much less likely to screw you over if they’re not screwing other people over.

Then one company starts cutting their milk powder with melamine, and becomes more profitable. You can follow suit, or slowly go bankrupt and the one that’s cutting its milk powder will take you over. That’s the worst of all possible outcomes.

The other possibility is that the first one to cut its milk powder is exposed. Then you don’t have to cut your milk powder. There’s a threat of regulation that produces self-regulation.

It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more effected negatively by leaks than honest businesses. That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies.

No one wants to have their own things leaked. It pains us when we have internal leaks. But across any given industry, it is both good for the whole industry to have those leaks and it’s especially good for the good players.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Guardian on Bradley Manning.
Heather Brooke gets to the heart of the WikiLeaks story :

The former US ambassador to Russia James Collins told CNN the disclosure of the cables, "will impede doing things in a normal, civilised way". Too often what is normal and civilised in diplomacy means turning a blind eye to large-scale social injustices, corruption and abuse of power. Having read through several hundred cables, much of the "harm" is embarrassment and the highlighting of inconvenient truths. For the sake of a military base in a country, our leaders accept a brutal dictator who oppresses his population. This may be convenient in the short term for politicians, but the long-term consequences for the world's citizens can be catastrophic.

Monday, November 29, 2010

I've just made a donation to WikiLeaks.

Yes, what wikileaks is doing is pretty scary. There could, indeed, be bad repercussions.

On, the other hand, this is potentially the biggest shift in the relationship between governments and people in a generation.

Looking back historically, the people never get concessions out of government except through (some kind of) force. And we will not get a government that remakes itself for the internet age voluntarily. Only if we demand better behaviour and more openness from the powerful will we get it. (And I mean demand from a position of strength, not plead from a position of weakness.)

Today, the best way we can tell the governments of the world that we want (and that we deserve) a new contract with them, is to stand up for WikiLeaks in both principle and practice. Give money. Give more information. Mirror and help distribute documents. Defend the physical persons involved - if it comes to that. (Or just be willing to defend the idea of Wikileaks in that argument down the pub next week.)

In all events, the people must be willing to carry on the work that WikiLeaks has started, to ensure that governments (and the oligarchies that sway them) can no longer conspire in comfort.

Because there's going to be a tumultuous outcry, in every alleged political colour, against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. The accusation of irresponsibility, the accusation that lives will be lost, that the business of government can not be undertaken without a necessary cloak of secrecy. That *our* government cannot successfully work against *their* government to defend *us*.

There will be dirty tricks (as in the rape accusation of a couple of months ago.) There will be physical threats and possibly murder.

But if we allow Wikileaks to be destroyed, we will be giving yet more power to the already over-wealthy and over-powerful.

Update : John Powers says I should tag this story with "netocracy" as netocratic theory is a great way to understand this struggle. That sounds right to me. I hadn't really thought through that far but I'm sure there's a lot more to say about that ...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Good article about a journalist I've never heard of.

With a kicking paragraph about maths and compassion. In a psychology experiment ...

Worse still, when the authors asked one set of subjects to perform mathematical calculations and the other set of subjects to describe their feelings when they heard the word "baby," the subjects who'd done math gave only about half as much to Rokia as the ones who'd thought about babies. Apparently, just thinking analytically makes us stingier. The authors of the study concluded that "calculative thought lessens the appeal of an identifiable victim.
"
Today, I'm totally awestruck by Chicago Footwork and Juke. Give this a listen.

I love the fact that they've taken something incredibly simple and dumb (basically riddiculously short vocal snippets looped ad nauseum) and pushed it extreme enough to come up with a weird kind of sublime continuum of sound.

Ends up like weird cross of Steve Reich's tape phase experiments, Paul Hardcastle's 19 and hipnogogs like Oneohtrix Point Never or Emeralds.

Extra-ordinary once you overcome your initial revulsion at the stuttery vocals.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ireland will do anything to fix it's economy ...

except tax the rich and powerful.

An object lesson in how the world works.
Max/MSP class at Goldsmiths



(Not actually a lot of me composing on this. My machine was making fairly quiet sounds at the time compared to the rest of the group.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

So, government welfare reforms are released.

I'm not entirely against them. I think it would be a good idea to simplify the system and reduce the number of different types of payments. I also agree with the attempt to eliminate the "poverty trap", so that getting a job doesn't immediately result in a large drop in benefits.

However, we'll see whether these good things are any more than a cover for the main workfare agenda of forcing people into underpaid (below minimum wage) and exploitative (no security, no rights) labour by threatening to remove benefits.

If the first two of these things are good (and I agree they are) we could have them without the workfare part. If the workfare is a genuine (though I'd still say, misguided) belief that free-riders are a problem let's see some real guarantees that the innocent won't get caught up by the punishment (eg. that benefits won't be withdrawn from the "workshy" if there are fewer than a certain number of decent vacancies in the home-town etc.)

Sunday, November 07, 2010

T.U.C. Bloggers on Workfare (my emphasis) :


We oppose workfare on both moral and practical grounds. The most important moral objection to workfare is that unemployed people are not responsible for their unemployment: they are the victims in this story, not the villains. People who have been made redundant and young people who have not been able to get a job since leaving school did not cause the economic crisis and the number of unemployed people has not risen so steeply because there are 700,000 more lazy people than there used to be. But workfare is being imposed as if people on JSA were the “workshy” of today’s Mail and Telegraph headlines.

Workfare is unfair to unemployed people because it requires them to work in return for their JSA – the amount of JSA you get depends on your family circumstances. If a job is worth doing it is worth being paid the rate for the job, but even the highest levels of benefit will still leave people working for an hourly rate well below the national minimum wage – the rate we have established as the minimum to avoid exploitation.

Workfare is unfair to disabled people – hundreds of thousands of people currently receiving Incapacity Benefit are being re-tested, using a much tougher medical test. A large majority of them will be left with no alternative but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Because of discrimination against disabled people and the fact that opportunities in our society are still inaccessible in many ways, they are more likely to find themselves on the benefit for a long time. Disabled people will therefore be disproportionately likely to find themselves subjected to workfare.

For the same reason, lone parents are going to be hit by this reform: since October, lone parents whose youngest child is aged 7 or over have been required to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Childcare is still hard to arrange, jobs that are flexible enough to be combined with school hours are comparatively rare and so lone parents are likely to find themselves unemployed for longer periods and therefore likely to have workfare applied to them.

Workfare is unfair to people in work: workers doing jobs comparable to those undertaken by the workfare conscripts will effectively be in competition for their jobs. In some cases, this will lead to them losing their jobs; even when this does not happen, the competition will serve to hold down pay and terms and conditions. This is not only unfair, it is hardly what the economy needs at a time of depressed demand. Some people find it hard to sympathise with workers in this position, but a thought experiment may help: imagine that someone who has been working in the same occupation as yourself is made redundant and then required to do the same job, but for £65 a week. Would you think that was fair to them or to you?

Workfare is unfair to some businesses. Businesses and self-employed people working in the same field as the JSA claimants who do not have this subsidised labour will find themselves losing contracts.

The motivation of unemployed people is not the cause of mass unemployment. Research during the recessions of the 1980s and 90s found that, if anything, unemployed people have a stronger attachment to employment than people in work. Unemployed people are less likely to be happy than people in employment; they are likely to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, and more likely to suffer the longer they have been unemployed. It is very unlikely that people would deliberately choose a state that had this effect.

The biggest problem face – as Douglas Alexander points out in an excellent article in today’s Independent – is that there simply aren’t enough jobs to go round. According to the latest labour market statistics, there are 2,448,000 unemployed people, 2,405,000 “economically inactive” people who say they want jobs and 1,137,000 working in part-time jobs who want to work full-time. On the other side of the equation, there are 459,000 job vacancies. Even if we limit our comparison to unemployed people, there are more than 5 unemployed people for every job vacancy; before the recession, this ratio was normally around 3:1.

Tories bring back the workhouse.

Update : Some good comments at BBC.

2. At 01:40am on 07 Nov 2010, Marnok wrote:
If there is a job there to be done, pay someone to do it. Don't treat valuable work as a form of punishment. If the job needs doing, pay someone to do it so they can earn a living and hold their head high. When manual work is treated as some kind of a punishment for the sin of being unemployed, it demeans all manual work, shows that government has a poor opinion of workers, and belittles those "forced" to work who have in all likelihood been forced into the depressing state of long-term unemployment.



6. At 01:46am on 07 Nov 2010, bujin wrote:
Cost of direct bank bailouts: £850bn
DWP estimated benefit fraud per year: £1bn

What about the benefit lifestyle the banksters are enjoying?



10. At 01:49am on 07 Nov 2010, Dada wrote:
Erm, why don't they just pay them the minimum wage to do that work? Or is this just a ploy to get cheap labour?


12. At 01:54am on 07 Nov 2010, Jon Cooper wrote:
What kind of compulsory community work is being considered?
cos I can see it being street cleaning and litter picking
so the paid council staff who should be doing those jobs turn up for work only to be told they aren't needed anymore, the 'unemployed' are being forced to do the work instead. Next thing they're down the jobcenter looking for work - with a fair chance that they could be back doing the same job they just lost, but for benefits instead of wages.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010




I'm a big fan of Alan Kay (inventor of Object Oriented programming, and general interesting thinker) so I bought the Points of View book.

As usual, this is a connection competition. Suggest interesting parallels, contrasts, connections between the different recent acquisitions shown here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Here's a question that will become relevant now I'm at art college : am I a visual artist?

Looking at my monster stickers I realize that they're visually fairly slapdash. Sizes, shapes, colours are random. I didn't spend much time worrying about exactly how they would look.

Frankly, I don't care. Jesson Yip suggests that I try to use restricted palettes rather than the current garish cacophony of colours. And, although, in a sense, I like the childish hues of the designer toy world, I'm sure his muted tones would look great too.

And if someone wants to hack the program to produce grey-scale, gothic monsters, ready for Halloween, then I'd be equally happy with that.



But ultimately, I don't feel particularly energized to spend much time fiddling with the look.

And here's the real issue. I don't really care because, to me, the idea of the interactivity is what matters. The fact that you run the program, print the stickers, go and stick them somewhere. This is the art work.

However, now I wonder. This making a distinction between the process (eg. encoded in the software, the activity of the audience) and the final product is natural for the computer geek. It's what we do every day : distinguish our program (with which we can be well satisfied) from the customer's data.

But it is completely alien to the artist, for who the finished product is the end to which everything else is mere means. Does my attitude betray, in fact, that I'm too much the computer geek and not enough the artist?

We often laugh (or weep) at the graphic designer or customer who seems more obsessed by the colour or font used in the user-interface than our grand feats of architecture that actually made the system work at all. But is the designer or artist naive as we would normally assume? Or simply someone for who this distinction between process and the final result is invalid?

?????

Hmmm .... :-/

Doh! Stupid art college!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

OrangeCone on the "LAN of things"


  • Devices are "building blocks" that serve specific functions. Printers, tape drives and modems all served specific functions in the early LAN ecology.


  • They "combine transmission, storage, and processing operations." In other words, each device works standalone, but it is the combination of the devices that provides greatest value ("synergy" in the business language of 80s).


  • Components are "added and shaped [...] meet specific user applications." This implies that not all LAN have the same components and that LANs are built as needed, rather than defined in its entirely beforehand.


Thursday, October 21, 2010





Pictures made with FlowerBrush (an exercise for my course)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brilliant bit of alt.energy research. Cracking water directly into hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell.

Sounds very promising.
Plastic Electronics!

Hope there's some story for disposing of it all though. :-(
Of course, as an artist, I may also be pursuing beauty, truth, the sublime and the quality without a name ...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's up with Phil? A quick blurst of news.

It's a long story I may go into later, but I got kind of burned-out working on the last project I was on. So I decided to take some time off and apply to go back to university. I'm now at Goldsmiths college in London, doing the MFA in Computational Studio Arts.

This is quite a departure for me. I've tried being a scientist (but really don't have the attention to detail and statistical rigour for it), hung out with philosophers (and felt tempted by philosophy), and married an artist. But I've never thought of myself as *being* an artist. Or even *wanting* to be an artist. (Despite all the music I make.) I'm not sure I do now. There's still some puritan part of my brain which finds the whole thing rather self-indulgent and disreputable.

OTOH, here are two things I find really attractive :

a) the idea of being a "craftsman". That is, an expert maker of things.

And

b) the idea of artist as self-directed "gift-giver"; that is, someone who's work is inspired by what they want to give to the world rather than reacting to commission.

Of course, the world is full of programmers who say "I'm looking for a job where I can write what I want instead of having the pointy haired boss telling me what to do."

Well, artists are effectively living that dream. (Though, naturally, having to cope with the financial constraints that inevitably follow.)

So part of what I'm looking for on this course, is to stretch that part of me. Not so much the part which makes stuff up, which is fairly extended anyway, but the part which turns vague dreams into real things. A lot of it is to do with observing and modifying my own attitude and values. Even getting a bit more disreputable if it helps me push things forward ;-).

Inevitably the course is starting with some "learn to program for artists" type courses. Which aren't exactly an issue for me at the moment. But we're getting shown some nice graphics and sound related tools like Processing and openFrameworks (the latter of which I hadn't seen before).

And, soon, we'll start working with multi-touch, audio processing, and what Goldsmiths call "Physical Computing" which is all the magical, device-swarm, circuit bending electronics stuff. This is something I've wanted to get down to for a while, but haven't had the structure or time. I hope this course will give this to me. And if all goes according to plan, some of my device ideas may become reality.

Meanwhile, you can look at my ongoing course sketch-book (starting with Processing sketches.) I'll keep using this blog as my main "artistic" blog. So expect to see more art and music appearing here. I'll also use ThoughtStorms for further notes and ideas. And any swarm music I make will probably also find its way to the Gbloink site.
Nathan Lewis has written a couple of must-read essays on scarcity, sustainability and high-density living. (Linked here.)

Lots of his other essays are worth a read too.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

John Hagel nails The Social Network as a netocratic text.

The movie reeks of obsession with status. It is set largely on the Harvard campus where, for many, status is everything. Of course, simply being a student at Harvard is a mark of status. This becomes clear from the first scene when Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend from Boston University is made painfully aware that Harvard is better. But Harvard students are themselves made aware that there is a deeper hierarchy even at this pinnacle – real status is being “punched” to join one of the elite and very private social clubs at Harvard, and there is a pronounced hierarchy even among and within these clubs.

Sunday, October 03, 2010