Archive for category Technology
For anyone who hasn’t been following, 17-year-old Twitter user @Riley_69 (the ’69′ in the username was a bad omen in the first place) was a little disappointed in British diver Tom Daley for only coming fourth place. He expressed his opinion rather crudely and was later arrested for his thoughts.
See, Daley had previously said this in an interview with the BBC, referring to his deceased father:
Winning a medal would make all the struggles that I’ve had worthwhile. It’s been my dream since a very young age to compete at an Olympics. I’m doing it for myself and my dad. It was both our dreams from a very young age. I always wanted to do it and Dad was so supportive of everything. It would make it extra special to do it for him.
So when Daley did not win a medal, @Riley_69 figured this was the appropriate thing to say:
You let your dad down i hope you know that.
Daley expressed his displeasure, but @Riley_69 did not seem to care much for Daley’s feelings:
Hope your crying now you should be why can’t you even produce for your country your just a diver anyway a overhyped prick.
What struck me about that tweet was the choice to omit the apostrophe in “you’re”, yet include it in “can’t”, and the omission of any punctuation other than the full-stop at the end. I think this actually justifies the use of the term ‘half-literate’.
Moving along, our keyboard warrior later had this to say:
i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick
And in response to criticism from others:
i dont give a shit bruv i’m gonna drown him and i’m gonna shoot you he failed why you suporting him you cunt
For this, Mr Riley was arrested. In fairness to him, when he saw the outcry that his tweets had caused, he did tweet an apology:
@TomDaley1994 I’m sorry mate i just wanted you to win cause its the olympics I’m just annoyed we didn’t win I’m sorry tom accept my apology.
please i don’t want to be hated I’m just sorry you didn’t win i was rooting for you pal to do britain all proud just so upset.
Kenan Malik doesn’t approve of the arrest (my bold):
… I am simply pointing out that once we allow concepts of incitement and threat to become so elastic, then we open up a broader problem for free speech. The reason for being wary of police action against someone like @Rileyy_69 is not because one wants to defend the abuse of Tom Daley, nor because one is sanguine about death threats, but because if we lose sight of the fact that threats have to be both credible and understood in context, then free speech in a broader sense becomes endangered. @Rileyy_69’s tweets, and not just to Tom Daley, were vile, abusive, obnoxious. But read in context, and with a bit of common sense, no one would take them as genuine death threats. This might be an individual craving attention, and perhaps even, as some have suggested, needing help, but not someone who is about to commit a murder.
I get where Malik is coming from, but I have to ask what makes him so sure and if he has really considered the consequences of Riley_69′s behaviour.
I completely understand the argument about free speech and I instinctively feel that curtailing any expression is a bad thing, however it is equally wrong to be absolutist about these kinds of rights. In many situations, absolute free speech will conflict with other fundamental rights and it is a fallacy to suggest that free speech must necessarily trump other rights in every situation.
Malik does recognise this, however I question why this particular instance is such an “elastic” interpretation. The boy very explicitly issued violent death threats against Daley amid very hurtful personal abuse. That kind of harassment and intimidation would be illegal if it were to take place in person or over the phone, the only reason that everyone is up in arms over this is that the communication took place online – a medium that is generally perceived as more remote and impersonal than other forms of communication.
I think that it is about time we drop this assumption that online communication is necessarily less harmful or serious than the same communication offline. Unfortunately, if Mr Riley did decide to go after Daley offline, he would not be the first psycho to take an online obsession and act on it IRL (see, eg, HERE, HERE and HERE) and there have been quite a few cases of online harassment that have led to the victim’s suicide (see, eg, HERE, HERE and HERE).
On a slight tangent, online communication is the primary means of radicalising
Western individuals who later commit terror attacks. The late Anwar al-Awlaki from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the recent subject of one of Obama’s drone strikes in Yemen, was particularly adept at finding vulnerable Muslims online and coaxing them into committing acts of terror – the Fort Hood shootings being an example.
I say ‘slight’ tangent because, while the attacks wouldn’t have occurred but for Awlaki’s communicating with shooter Nidal Malik Hasan directly, most of the vile antisemitic/anti-American extremist propaganda that Hasan had access to before Awlaki approached him was distributed online.
The argument that people should just “challenge” these points of view are valid to an extent, but this method is limited. Open debate does not sway the kind of extremists who believe that all of society is lying to them and it is their duty to kill others; it will not prevent a psychotic stalker from chasing-down a victim; and it does not make victims of harassment feel any less harassed, so will not prevent their being driven into depression and suicide.
Free speech and open debate is vital for our society, but we have to recognise that the cost of not punishing some forms of speech is higher than the cost of prohibiting them.
It’s a grey area, but from where I sit, “i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick” is over that line.
Apparently that means I’m politically conservative. Go figure.
Yes it would, the study found. So much so, in fact, that the people surveyed all but ignored their actual experience. No matter what the weather records showed for a given neighborhood (despite the global trend, it had gotten colder in some places and warmer in others), conservatives and liberals fell into the same two camps. The former said that temperatures were decreasing or had stayed the same, and the latter claimed they were going up. “Actual temperature deviations proved to be a relatively weak predictor of perceptions,” wrote the authors. (Hat tip to Ars Technica for finding the study.)
The best argument that Julia Gillard seems to have come up with in defence of her carbon tax is that Abbott won’t be able to repeal it because Labor will block his attempt, as well as spruiking the pre-emptive bailouts her government has decided to give to everyone.
Well, there are also points like this:
Did you know the Chinese company Suntech, whose chief executive Zhengrong Shi was educated at the University of NSW, became the world’s largest producer of silicon solar modules in 2010? Or that in 2010 global investment in generating renewable energy such as solar and wind power overtook investment in generating energy from fossil fuels?
Well, fortunately for the Chinese government, it doesn’t have to spend much money developing companies like Suntech because it allows workers to be kept in on-site barracks and work 48-hours straight for less money than Gillard probably spends on breakfast. That makes Suntech a lot more viable than it would be in a country where joining a trade union wasn’t a good way to disappear of the face of the planet. But then, people my age don’t care about democracy anyway, so maybe the Chinese model is a good idea.
Let’s throw another company into the mix: Solyndra. Here’s a good piece from Juliet Eilperin in Wired a little while ago that describes that whole kerfuffle:
In 2005, VC investment in clean tech measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The following year, it ballooned to $1.75 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. By 2008, the year after Doerr’s speech, it had leaped to $4.1 billion. And the federal government followed. Through a mix of loans, subsidies, and tax breaks, it directed roughly $44.5 billion into the sector between late 2009 and late 2011. Avarice, altruism, and policy had aligned to fuel a spectacular boom.
Anyone who has heard the name Solyndra knows how this all panned out. Due to a confluence of factors—including fluctuating silicon prices, newly cheap natural gas, the 2008 financial crisis, China’s ascendant solar industry, and certain technological realities—the clean-tech bubble has burst, leaving us with a traditional energy infrastructure still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuels. The fallout has hit almost every niche in the clean-tech sector—wind, biofuels, electric cars, and fuel cells—but none more dramatically than solar.
That, right there, was what happens when the government artificially props-up an unviable industry. The government was committed to Solyndra, so had to keep pumping money into it, even when it started to become obvious that they were just never going to be as competitive as they had hoped. A few billion taxpayer dollars later and the now gigantic Solyndra imploded, leaving hundreds of people without jobs and an entire industry in ruin.
Now to pick-up on a point in today’s Australian editorial:
Given that Mr Abbott has subscribed to the same carbon reduction target as the government — cutting Australia’s emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 — the framing of the debate in this fashion pushes the onus on to him to produce more substance. His “direct action” policy relies on the government picking winners rather than the market seeking out least-cost abatement, so it is bound to be less efficient than a trading scheme, and therefore more costly on the economy. Mr Abbott should not escape by simply pledging to repeal the carbon tax. He must show how he can meet his target without creating a large burden on the budget. Scepticism about his ability to do this abounds, especially given he promises to provide tax cuts for families and business, while scrapping the carbon and mining taxes.
See, the Coalition’s “direct action policy” is not dissimilar from the policy the US was following when the whole Solyndra thing broke out. Tony Abbott is essentially arguing that the government should be funding carbon-saving ideas in order to reach the emissions target that he agrees we should have. The carbon tax is a prima facie tax, but the direct action scheme is an indirect tax. After all, someone has to foot the bill for the hundreds of millions of dollars that would actually be required to implement it, and no prizes for guessing who that is (hint: me and you).
Why the government hasn’t been using this as an argument is beyond me. Whatever flaws its policy may have, it’s vastly superior to the Coalition’s (and ironically, more in-line with the Coalition’s general ideology than the Coalition’s policy is).
In 2000, seminal journalist Malcolm Gladwell released a book called The Tipping Point.
The book essentially defined our generation and the way we communicate. It introduced the general public to the whole concept of viral marketing and how ideas are spread from one person to another.
In the book, he identified three types of people who play key roles in transmitting information: mavens, connectors, and salespeople. To give a much too simple version of his theory: mavens have the information, connectors put people together with the mavens and salespeople convince people that they are connected to that they should act on the information.
Well, it has been more than a decade since this revelation hit the planet and our beloved national movie producers seem to have finally managed to crawl out from under a gigantic rock somewhere (some theories place them in Uluru for the last 12 years).
Screen Australia has identified 34 per cent of the population as “connectors” who can drive engagement with Australian content, in new research into the motivations for watching feature films, television drama and documentaries.
This third of the population are typically affluent, generally younger, live in the city and are highly engaged with the digital age and are now seen as key drivers of audience engagement with Australian screen content.
“The 34 per cent who we call connectors who are really engaged with content across a range of places, especially the social media space,” said Screen Australia’s chief executive Ruth Harley.
“It’s a lot of people, they’re watching a lot of content and they push other people to watch.”
And here we were, wondering how Australia could be such a sought-after filming destination for Hollywood and yet have a pretty pathetic excuse for a film industry ourselves. I guess some mysteries were never meant to be solved.
As you may have guessed by the infrequent posts recently, for a number of reasons I have not had the time to read/write like I usually would (and won’t for a while). Catching-up on the New Yorker from two weeks ago, I just read this article by Michael Specter on geoengineering.
I was going to provide excerpts and commentary, like I usually would, but that really wouldn’t do this article justice. Specter manages to succinctly cover almost every relevant piece of information about climate change: the history of the science, the current state of knowledge, the different options available, the possible economic costs, the political will etc.
The article shows that there is potential for catastrophe and there are a lot of horrible-sounding predictions, but these are all unreliable and we have historically been very inaccurate when trying to predict weather patterns. Similarly, the most coveted option (of cutting carbon emissions entirely) is completely unrealistic and probably more insane than the geoengineering options described in the article, all of which are a insane to some extent.
The one point that I want to concentrate on came close to the end, it concerns the lack of an international legal system to deal with activity that alters the climate. I have not finished processing the repercussions of this, but I will probably write a post once I have thought it all through.
In the meantime, I strongly recommend clicking through and reading the full article. It makes Mark Latham’s attempt look like a primary school science project (if it didn’t look like that already, that is).
The most environmentally sound approach to geoengineering is the least palatable politically. “If it becomes necessary to ring the planet with sulfates, why would you do that all at once?’’ Ken Caldeira asked. “If the total amount of climate change that occurs could be neutralized by one Mt. Pinatubo, then doesn’t it make sense to add one per cent this year, two per cent next year, and three per cent the year after that?’’ he said. “Ramp it up slowly, throughout the century, and that way we can monitor what is happening. If we see something at one per cent that seems dangerous, we can easily dial it back. But who is going to do that when we don’t have a visible crisis? Which politician in which country?’’
Unfortunately, the least risky approach politically is also the most dangerous: do nothing until the world is faced with a cataclysm and then slip into a frenzied crisis mode. The political implications of any such action would be impossible to overstate. What would happen, for example, if one country decided to embark on such a program without the agreement of other countries? Or if industrialized nations agreed to inject sulfur particles into the stratosphere and accidentally set off a climate emergency that caused drought in China, India, or Africa?
“Let’s say the Chinese government decides their monsoon strength, upon which hundreds of millions of people rely for sustenance, is weakening,” Caldeira said. “They have reason to believe that making clouds right near the ocean might help, and they started to do that, and the Indians found out and believed—justifiably or not—that it would make their monsoon worse. What happens then? Where do we go to discuss that? We have no mechanism to settle that dispute.”
Remember that Mark Latham article about listening to scientists that didn’t ask any scientists what they thought? Well, continuing this trend, for the ‘Climate Debate’ on Q and A tonight, the guests are:
- Rebecca Huntley – social researcher and writer
- Nick Minchin – Former Liberal Minister
- Anna Rose – founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition
- Clive Palmer – mining magnate
- Dr Megan Clark – Chief Executive of the CSIRO
Megan Clark is the closest thing to a climate scientist there — but she’s a geologist/engineer-turned-businesswoman. She may have scientific credentials, but she is not an expert in atmospheric science. Otherwise, we have a social scientist, a politician, an NGO-worker and a billionaire mining magnate.
I cannot see this happening for any other scientific debate. Try and imagine if they had a show about whether black holes are real, but did not invite a single astro-physicist; or a show about evolution without a single biologist.
As I have argued before, the climate change debate has long-ago ceased to be remotely about science. There is nothing scientific happening here whatsoever.
I’m sick to death of being preached at about “listening to scientists” by people who couldn’t tell you what “GCM” even stands for, let-alone how a GCM is constructed.
But then, “the science is in”, no?
That badboy up there is an A-10 Thunderbolt II anti-tank fighter plane.
Well… let’s be honest, it’s a small, plastic version that a 10-year-old MK glued together and gave a dubious “camouflage” coat using enamel paint from the local toy shop. See, a younger me had a thing for model airplanes – and planes in general. I chose aircraft for my Year 6 history project, I used to love going to the Royal Air Force museum in London and I loved flying.
I have a relative in the UK who I almost never see, he builds and flies remote-controlled airplanes. When I was a child, this was the most amazing guy I knew and all I ever wanted to do was fly one of them (he never let me do that). Now that I’m older, he’s a nerd/research-chemist and I don’t really want to spend time with the guy flying his stupid planes.
Yup, as I grew older, other interests came up and I lost my childhood obsession with flying. I stopped going back to the RAF museum, I stopped buying model kits to build and I stopped caring about remote-controlled planes. I still do like flying though, which people tell me is weird, but fuck them. I enjoyed myself on the mammoth 30-hour Tel Aviv-Zurich-Tokyo-Sydney journey that I did recently, the stopovers were the bad parts.
However, something happened recently that reignited my childhood passion – and it wasn’t drone strikes (although I do think drones are pretty cool, which is probably not unrelated). A good friend of mine hooked me up with this beautiful piece of machinery:
That is a little remote-controlled helicopter. I recently discovered that these can be purchased on eBay for about $30 including shipping. As you can see, it is small enough that if I am sitting for hours on end doing something boring like researching NSW bail reforms, I can take a break for 2 minutes and fly my chopper around the room.
I cannot explain to you how much fun this thing is. It’s almost like my childhood dream has come true.
Of course, this made me curious about what else is out there. One quick eBay search later and I was inches away from spending $150 on a helicopter that’s half as big as I am, but then I made another discovery: they have planes.
As it turns out, I can have a reasonably large RC version of my A-10 up there – that actually flies.
Anyway, I know that this has been a complete detour from my usual material, but I thought I’d share it anyway. My readers who don’t know me get a little insight into my non-political side and everyone I do know gets to understand why I’m going to be talking about RC planes for a while. I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t buy one – and haven’t yet – but common sense can only take you so far. This could become an expensive hobby…
And the free market is bringing it. Nuts to you, Bob Brown.
Amory Lovins in Foreign Affairs:
U.S. gasoline demand peaked in 2007; the oil use of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development peaked in 2005. With China and India pursuing efficient and electric vehicles, Deutsche Bank forecast in 2009 that world oil use could begin to decline after 2016. In fact, the world is nearing “peak oil” — not in supply but in demand. Oil is simply becoming uncompetitive even at low prices before it becomes unavailable even at high prices.
I also want to throw in this story, for good measure:
In 1850, most U.S. homes used whale-oil lamps, and whaling was the country’s fifth-biggest industry. But as whale populations dwindled, the price of whale oil rose, so between 1850 and 1859, coal-derived synthetic fuels grabbed more than five-sixths of the lighting market. In 1859, Edwin Drake struck oil, and kerosene, thanks to generous tax breaks, soon took over. Whalers, astounded that they had run out of customers before they ran out of whales, begged for federal subsidies on national security grounds, but Thomas Edison’s 1879 invention of electric lighting snuffed out their industry. Whales had been accidentally saved by technological innovators and profit-maximizing capitalists.
Energy efficiency is strategically important, but it also saves money. There is no need for Government to start saving the world here, human innovation is doing it just fine, thank you.
Reviewing the “Heartland affair”, Robert Murphy notes how one climate scientist did not think that the actual evidence against Heartland was enough and decided to forge a more “damning” document; and how gleefully the rest of the climate change movement began adopting this clearly forged document with no skepticism whatsoever:
Now to be sure, climate science isn’t the same thing as politics and the blogosphere. Just because these climate alarmists showed ridiculously bad judgment when it came to the Heartland affair, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wrong about the trajectory of global temperatures in the absence of mitigation strategies.
However, I do think this episode—and the reaction of the skeptic community during Climategate—are quite illustrative of the two camps’ approaches to the actual science. Back when the Climategate emails were first spreading around the Internet, I distinctly remember many people in the comments at blogs such as ClimateAudit warning their peers by saying things like, “Guys, remember, we’re skeptics. This is too good to be true. Let’s not jump up and down on this, because it might be a trap to make us look gullible.”
In contrast, the major players on the other side—when Heartland was “caught” saying things that were far more absurd than what the Climategate emails revealed—jumped with glee. For example…
Walter Russell Mead posits his analysis of the incentives leading to distortions in the climate debate:
- The climate movement’s proposals (above all, the global carbon treaty that in theory will subject the economic output of every country on earth to global controls) are radical, costly and virtually certain to fail.
- To be enacted, these unpromising measures require an unprecedented degree of consensus, as every major country on earth would have to accept, ratify and then enforce the climate treaty the movement seeks.
- The climate movement must therefore be, in Dean Acheson’s words, “clearer than truth” in order to stampede public and elite opinion around the world into a unique and unparalleled act of global legislation.
- Because many in the climate movement believe that this treaty is literally a matter of life and death for the human race, the moral case both for stretching the evidence and attacking critics of that agenda as aggressively as possible looks strong to weak minds.
- The absence of any central authority or quality control in the climate movement (and the tendency of unbalanced foundation execs and direct mail contributors to provide greater support to those ready to take more aggressive action and espouse more alarming ideas) gives more radical and less responsible voices undue prominence and entangles the whole movement in dubious claims.
- The increasing obstacles encountered by such a poorly conceptualized and poorly advocated agenda cause the embittered and alarmed advocates to circle the wagons and become both more extreme in their rhetoric and less guarded in their claims when precisely the opposite approach would work better.
I must say that I have a lot of sympathy for this position, although I do not think the phenomenon is limited to the “the world is ending” side of the debate; the other side is just as irrational and just as selective in its facts/deliberately deceptive for policy reasons.
What we essentially have is a political debate posing as a scientific one. The best example of this is the fact that the most commonly cited reason to believe in the climate change alarm is the supposed “scientific consensus” shown through petitions like this one – the idea being that if 31,487 scientists agree with something, it can’t possibly be wrong.
The very idea makes a mockery of Read the rest of this entry »
While I am a little hostile to the Kony2012 campaign on a number of levels, there is definitely one thing to be said for it: I now know quite a lot more about Uganda, and I’m sure that I am not alone. For all its flaws, the campaign did genuinely raise awareness in a way that has not really been achieved before.
For instance, one of the articles that I came across while researching a detailed response to the video came from Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama. As a result, I began following Izama, who alerted me to a very important event tomorrow that I had somehow missed, along with – it seems – the rest of my Western bubble as we were all too fixated on Kony:
On Wednesday, March 14, the International Criminal Court (ICC) will witness its first verdict for war crimes in its history. The timing of the verdict this week is special for the following reasons. The accused is Congolese, his main crime is the use of child soldiers and his fate, at the hands of international justice is at the heart of the debate of external intervention into Central Africa’s conflict zones. Most of the other pending trials at the court are Congolese. All the courts cases and investigations are in Africa so its safe to say that it is also the African Criminal Court.
The trial and pending verdict of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) highlights the intricate knitting of crimes and criminal enterprises in the region. A one time ally of Uganda, Lubanga’s UPC was in action well after Uganda had referred in a special arrangement with ICC Prosecutor Louis Moreno Ocampo- the case of the LRA in 2003. While Mr.Kony, who has been the subject of a major cyber debate this last week, remains free and operational in Eastern DRC where UPC used to run riot, Lubanga may be spending the rest of his life in jail if convicted. The relationship between the two rebel leaders, their careers and their alliances in the region is not deeply questioned in the present atmosphere.
Joseph Kony has long been an adversary of Ugandan authorities whereas Lubanga was a one-time ally. Now Kony is being hunted in the fields that Lubanga vacated by Uganda and its allies and for crimes that Kony himself was the first to be accused of. That is at the ICC.
I hope everyone who just read that feels as embarrassed as I do. While we have spent the last week or so being self-righteously pro-Kony2012, anti-Kony2012 or above the whole fray, the ICC has been hearing the case of an almost identical man who none of us had heard of before either.
Dyilo was allied to Kony’s enemies in Uganda, which goes even further to illustrate what I had said earlier about who really poses the biggest threat to the children we are so intent on “saving”. Dyilo used to control the territory that Kony is now busy terrorising, which means that had Dyilo not been captured, he may well have sealed Kony’s fate when Kony found that there was nowhere to run. That is not to say that capturing and trying Dyilo was a bad move, but it really goes to show how intervention in these affairs can have huge unintended consequences.
I cannot help thinking that a huge amount of harm could come from a serious campaign to “find Kony”, especially if it’s driven by some kind of combination of post-colonial guilt, a “save the children” Western superiority complex and “let’s get him” American-style bravado. Perhaps we should all take a step back rather than continuing to pave the path to hell for the people of Africa.