January 16, 2014

Crisis: British press, Ai Weiwei, NSA & metadata

   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next  

British press freedom is under international scrutiny –
     and with good reason

2. Interview with Ai Weiwei: 'My Virtual Life Has Become My
     Real Life'

3. NSA Spying On “Metadata” Is As Bad As Listening to the
     Content of Our Phone Calls … Or WORSE

About ME/CFS


This is another crisis file, with three crisis items.
There could have been more, but I saw nothing that I have not dealt with in the crisis series, in the last 7 months also.

It seems as if there are fewer crisis files related to the NSA, though this may be a fluke, or may be because most await Obama's speech tomorrow (of which I do not expect anything important as regards changing the facts), or else because Glenn Greenwald publishes less, and does not publish in the Guardian anymore.

Anyway - here are the crisis items, that today are delivered a bit earlier than on most days.

1. British press freedom is under international scrutiny – and with good reason

To start with, an article by Thomas Hughes, who is Executive Director of Article 19, which is an international human rights organization, in the Guardian:
This starts as follows:

This week, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers has dispatched a delegation of editors and publishers from as far apart as Pakistan, Canada, Denmark and Uruguay. Its mission is not to some far-off nation or dictatorship, but to the UK. The mission was originally motivated by concerns over the royal charter and the planned new system for press regulation. The delegation's agenda quickly expanded to include an examination of the hostile response to the Guardian's reporting on the Snowden leaks, which in many ways is far more worrying.

There has been considerable controversy over press regulation in England and Wales. Although effective self-regulation should always be the preferred method of press regulation, other models are compatible with international law provided they include adequate safeguards for press freedom. For example, Denmark, Ireland and Finland all have regulatory mechanisms premised on legislation that provide effective support for a robust and independent press.

The current system has failed to ensure the accountability and transparency of the press.
I agree - and indeed the last statement is fairly weak. Then again, by now one should also ask whether "the British press" wants to be a free press.

The answer is certainly "Yes!" for the Guardian, but this seems to me to be one of the few - most papers seem to follow the conformist and collaborative roles, that indeed also may allow them to continue to exist, even if that is only as a "press" that seeks to amuse, advertise, and pass on the government's approved news.

Part of the reason for that is the bad position of most parts of the printed press, it seems mainly for lack of advertisements, but also more seems involved, such as a switch to conservatism as an ideology, and also as desirable in most "journalists", and the giving up of even the idea of investigative journalism (which also tends to be costly).

There is also this, amidst a reasonable amount of specifics:

The organisation's reporting of the Snowden leaks in its paper and online revealed mass surveillance of the digital communications of millions of people by the security services, including GCHQ. Through its serious-minded, public-interest journalism, the Guardian has initiated an important debate about the appropriate balance between national security and individual liberties.

Rather than addressing the issue at the heart of the scandal (secret state spying on the public) the government, no doubt embarrassed, has sought to shoot the messenger. The hostility shown towards the Guardian has been almost palpable. The paper has faced censorship, harassment and the threat of legal persecution.

Yes, indeed - and the odd thing, at least judging by the past, such as the last quarter of the previous century, is that most papers these days have followed the government rather than the Guardian. Some of the reasons for this I sketched above.

And it ends thus:

It is indeed "unprecedented" that an international press freedom mission should be sent to the UK – their own words, not mine. Such delegations are typically found addressing concerns in some of the most challenging environments for journalism around the globe, where the anti-censorship organisation Article 19 usually focuses its efforts.

The mere appearance of such a group on British soil should sound alarm bells. Whether it does remains to be seen. Along with other free-expression groups, I will meet with the delegation this week. My message will be clear: the long tradition of the UK's commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms appears to be in danger. Every effort must be made to preserve it.

In fact, I fear the appearance of Article 19 will cause little changes and also little news. I hope I am mistaken about this, but I suspect I am not.

2. Interview with Ai Weiwei: 'My Virtual Life Has Become My Real Life'

Next, an article by the Spiegel (international edition):

This is from the beginning - and here is a Wikipedia link to Ai Weiwei: 

SPIEGEL: (...) China is looking pretty strong and powerful these days.

Ai: That only makes it more dangerous. If a master, a wise and experienced man, wields a great weapon, that's beautiful. He can serve peace with it. But if someone's emotions are imbalanced, even if he has the best equipment, he will still mean danger. Modern technology requires calm. You shouldn't trust anyone with a car who has no knowledge about vehicles or roads.

Yes, indeed - but it also seems to be the case elsewhere: Most people "have become the tools of their tools" (Thoreau), to a much larger extent than before,  in a very small time also (some 10-13 years) and also with a much greater danger than before, because they also do not understand the tools they use, nor indeed the dangers that others, such as the NSA or GCHQ in the West, may use the tools they use secretively to manipulate the people who use the tools.

This bit continues as follows:

SPIEGEL: So China's political leadership doesn't have its feelings under control?

Ai: The whole system -- not just the political leadership, the military too, the whole power structure, our education system, the whole of society -- is suffering from being cut off from the free flow of information. That's why the country can't face up to open competition -- unless it resorts to measures like North Korea.

I do not have much knowledge about China, nor about the flow of information, and I suppose this is the same for nearly all Westerners. However, I did read a good part of Chinese philosophy, and also know a lot about Marxism, and have read some good recent writings on China, e.g. by Jung Chang and by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), so I suppose in fact I know a bit more than the average.

In any case, I observe that Mao Zedong has been dead for 37 years now, and while China is still a one-party communist state, which is not good, it certainly has done a lot better than it did under Mao or his immediate successors.

Then again, it has done better mostly economically, and not or less in most other fields, and it also seems as if it is still in transition from communism to something else - which transition is mostly inhibited by its leaders, but who also are not able to stop it.

Here is the last bit from the beginning:

SPIEGEL: What's wrong with China's education system? According to the OECD's most recent Pisa study, an international ranking of education systems, students in Shanghai are the world's best in arithmetic, natural sciences and in reading.

Ai: I think our system is hollow and empty. Let's talk about humanity, individualism, imagination and creativity -- those are the values a society is built on. What education are we getting, what dreams do we dream? I deal with students every day -- from China, Germany, the United States, Hong Kong and Taiwan. And I've noticed that the Chinese students are the least trained in having a sense of aesthetics. They lack any ability to sense what is beautiful or what is proper. They can be learned and skillful, but they lack the ability to make their own free judgment.

I do think it is important that "students in Shanghai are the world's best in arithmetic, natural sciences and in reading", and this certainly is a considerable advance. Then again, I suppose I agree with Weiwei that Chinese students in large part "lack the ability to make their own free judgment", which must be mostly due to their living in a dictatorial one-party system, as did their parents and grandparents, that recommends and teaches to avoid all choices that oppose or may oppose the party line.

Anyway - the above was quoted from the very beginning of the interview, and there is a lot more, that you can read yourself.

3. NSA Spying On “Metadata” Is As Bad As Listening to the Content of Our Phone Calls … Or WORSE

Next, an article by and on Washington's Blog:

This starts as follows, with the colors and links as in the original:

Why Spying On Metadata Is Even MORE Intrusive than Listening to Content

The government has sought to reassure us that it is only tracking “metadata” such as the time and place of the calls, and not the content of the calls.

There is substantial evidence from top whistleblowers that the government is recording the content of our call … word-for-word.

And former CIA deputy director – and White House NSA spying panel member – Mike Morrell says that metadata is content.

But even accepting the government’s claims at face value, technology experts say that “metadata” can be more revealing than the content of your actual phone calls.

The answer to the blue question this starts with is: Because metadata enables the tracking of all your contacts, and thus all of your social life and all the things  you do with other people and all your doings on the net, with and without others, and merely looking at the contents of your mails doesn't do any of these things.

There is a lot more information in the article that clarifies this.



[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, thay the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servant of laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komarof

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)[2]

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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