Quotulatiousness

December 17, 2014

Canadian telcos: “there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:10

Sounds good, right? Canada’s telecom companies telling the government that there’s no reason to pass laws requiring surveillance capabilities … except that the reason they’re saying this is that “they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default“:

After years of failed bills, public debate, and considerable controversy, lawful access legislation received royal assent last week. Public Safety Minister Peter MacKay’s Bill C-13 lumped together measures designed to combat cyberbullying with a series of new warrants to enhance police investigative powers, generating criticism from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, civil liberties groups, and some prominent victims rights advocates. They argued that the government should have created cyberbullying safeguards without sacrificing privacy.

While the bill would have benefited from some amendments, it remains a far cry from earlier versions that featured mandatory personal information disclosure without court oversight and required Internet providers to install extensive surveillance and interception capabilities within their networks.

The mandatory disclosure of subscriber information rules, which figured prominently in earlier lawful access bills, were gradually reduced in scope and ultimately eliminated altogether. Moreover, a recent Supreme Court ruling raised doubt about the constitutionality of the provisions.

[…]

Perhaps the most notable revelation is that Internet providers have tried to convince the government that they will voluntarily build surveillance capabilities into their networks. A 2013 memorandum prepared for the public safety minister reveals that Canadian telecom companies advised the government that the leading telecom equipment manufacturers, including Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei, all offer products with interception capabilities at a small additional cost.

In light of the standardization of the interception capabilities, the memo notes that the Canadian providers argue that “the telecommunications market will soon shift to a point where interception capability will simply become a standard component of available equipment, and that technical changes in the way communications actually travel on communications networks will make it even easier to intercept communications.”

In other words, Canadian telecom providers are telling the government there is no need for legally mandated surveillance and interception functionality since they will be building networks that will feature those capabilities by default.

The Internet is on Fire | Mikko Hypponen | TEDxBrussels

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Published on 6 Dec 2014

This talk was given at a local TEDx event, produced independently of the TED Conferences. The Internet is on Fire

Mikko is a world class cyber criminality expert who has led his team through some of the largest computer virus outbreaks in history. He spoke twice at TEDxBrussels in 2011 and in 2013. Every time his talks move the world and surpass the 1 million viewers. We’ve had a huge amount of requests for Mikko to come back this year. And guess what? He will!

Prepare for what is becoming his ‘yearly’ talk about PRISM and other modern surveillance issues.

December 16, 2014

America’s “terribly warped justice system”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Conrad Black talks (partly from first-hand experience) of how badly served the United States is by its justice system:

… everyone in the United States, from the president and the wealthiest and most admired citizens down, is, in some measure, a victim of this now terribly warped justice system. No one is safe and everyone pays for it. The legal cartel is riveted on the back of the country like a horse-leech and extracts $1.8 trillion a year from the American economy as the legislators and regulators add 4,000 new measures with weighty sanctions each year, for the delectation of their confrères at the bar. At any time, 1 percent of the entire adult population is incarcerated, at a cost of about $150 billion annually and usually in unconstitutionally inhuman conditions; another 6 or so percent of all adults, male and female, are awaiting conviction (99.5 percent of those tried are convicted, an absurdly implausible number rivaled only by North Korea) or are under supervised release by often pettifogging probation officers at further great cost to the country. There are 48 million convicted felons in the United States, and even if decades-old unstigmatizing offenses such as failing a breathalyzer or being disorderly at a fraternity party are omitted, this means that approximately 15 percent of American adult males are designated felons. This is an absurd and barbarous number achieved by equal-opportunity multi-ethnic injustice, albeit unevenly applied. It presents African Americans a chance to form an invincible coalition in whose victory they would be the principal winners.

Though evidence of police and prosecution abuse pours in through the media every week, the majority of Americans, personally unaffected by the failings of the system, complacently believes that they live in a society of laws envied by the world. Neither supposition is correct. The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as other prosperous democracies: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. This appalling state of affairs has developed gradually over the last 40 years, as the percentage of prosecutions resolved by (very often) abusive applications of the plea-bargain system without a trial has risen from about 80 (an unheard of number in other democratic countries) to 97. The percentage of incarcerated people among the population has multiplied by five in that time, so the U.S. today has 5 percent of the world’s people, but 25 percent of its incarcerated people (and 50 percent of its lawyers – counting only those countries in which a serious professional entry course is required to practice that occupation).

The Supreme Court has sat like a shelf of suet puddings while the criminal-justice system has become a conveyor belt to the country’s bloated and corrupt prison system, and lawyers have become an immense industry, hiding its avarice behind a fog of insipid pieties about the rule of law (which, as the phrase was meant by the authors of the Bill of Rights, can scarcely be said to exist in the U.S.). New York federal judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the New York Review of Books on November 20 that the traditional American notion of the day in court is “a mirage” because of the corruption of the plea-bargain system, in which inculpatory evidence is extorted from witnesses in exchange for immunity from prosecution, including for perjury. Every week there is some new exposé of horror stories of prosecutorial abuse, yet prosecutors enjoy an absolute immunity, even when it is revealed that they have committed crimes of obstruction of justice, as in the infamous Connick v. Thompson decision of 2011: An innocent man spent 14 years on death row because prosecutors willfully withheld DNA evidence they knew would, and ultimately did, acquit him; the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly overruled the damage award to the wrongfully convicted Mr. Thompson on a spurious technicality.

December 15, 2014

UKIP’s changing demographics force changes to ideology

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In sp!ked, Patrick West explains why as UKIP’s electoral chances have grown, they’ve been talking less and less like they used to:

This weird synthesis is a product of the global downturn, globalisation and UKIP’s reaction to these developments. In recent years, UKIP has started to pick up voters in the north of England and from traditional Labour constituencies. It’s a different beast to that which, during the 1990s, was supported mostly by middle-class, golf-club types and anti-EU monomaniacs.

UKIP has noticeably moved leftwards in accordance with its broadening appeal. A recent YouGov survey for the The Times showed that 56 per cent of the population wanted the state to take back ownership of utilities, and 59 per cent supported renationalising the railways. But the clamour for renationalisation was even higher among UKIP voters – 64 per cent for utilities and 67 per cent for the railways. UKIP now openly speaks of renationalising the railways, with its financial spokesman, Steven Woolfe, earlier this week saying he was open to the idea.

Indeed, today’s UKIP speaks of a ‘living minimum wage’, a tax on the super rich and protecting the NHS from the private sector. It now comes in for as much criticism from Tories and the libertarian right as from the metropolitan left (check out the hashtag #RedUKIP on Twitter, for instance). Why, asks the right-wing libertarian commentator James Delingpole, is UKIP now ‘flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers Party?’.

It’s no coincidence that free-market, pro-immigration publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times are as hostile to UKIP as the Guardian is. It’s often said that UKIP wants to ‘turn the clock back’, which is a fair accusation. But keep in mind that its supporters also increasingly want to turn the clock back to a pre-Thatcherite Britain.

December 13, 2014

Tobacco – 480,000. Alcohol – 88,000. Marijuana – > 0

Filed under: Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

It’s ridiculous to claim that smoking marijuana is a healthy habit. It does increase the risk of certain kinds of cancers, although the numbers are not huge, they’re also not zero. Jacob Sullum says “Marijuana Kills! But Not Very Often. Especially When Compared to Alcohol and Tobacco.

In a new Heritage Foundation video, anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet bravely tackles “the myth that marijuana doesn’t kill.” Although cannabis consumers (unlike drinkers) do not die from acute overdoses, he says, “marijuana does kill people” through suicide, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, car crashes, and other accidents.

I won’t say Sabet is attacking a straw man, since overenthusiastic cannabis fans have been known to say that “marijuana doesn’t kill anyone” (although the top Google result for that phrase is an article by Sabet explaining why that’s not true). But I will say that Sabet manages to obscure the fact that marijuana does not kill people very often, especially compared to the death tolls from legal drugs such as tobacco and alcohol, which is the relevant point in evaluating the scientific basis for pot prohibition. Let’s take a closer look at the four ways that marijuana kills, according to Sabet:

Suicide. Some research does find a correlation between suicide and marijuana use, but that does not mean the relationship is causal. A longitudinal study published by The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009 reached this conclusion:

    Although there was a strong association between cannabis use and suicide, this was explained by markers of psychological and behavioural problems. These results suggest that cannabis use is unlikely to have a strong effect on risk of completed suicide, either directly or as a consequence of mental health problems secondary to its use.

Furthermore, there is some evidence that letting patients use marijuana for symptom relief reduces the risk of suicide. Still, if reefer has ever driven anyone to kill himself, that would be enough to prove Sabet’s point. You can’t say it has never happened!

December 12, 2014

Supreme Court swings and misses on cellphone privacy ruling

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:00

Michael Geist on the most recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the ability of the police to conduct warrantless searches of cellphones taken during an arrest:

The Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in R. v. Fearon today, a case involving the legality of a warrantless cellphone search by police during an arrest. Given the court’s strong endorsement of privacy in recent cases such as Spencer, Vu, and Telus, this seemed like a slam dunk. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision in Riley, which addressed similar issues and ruled that a warrant is needed to search a phone, further suggested that the court would continue its streak of pro-privacy decisions.

To the surprise of many, a divided court upheld the ability of police to search cellphones without a warrant incident to an arrest. The majority established some conditions, but ultimately ruled that it could navigate the privacy balance by establishing some safeguards with the practice. A strongly worded dissent disagreed, noting the privacy implications of access to cellphones and the need for judicial pre-authorization as the best method of addressing the privacy implications.

The majority, written by Justice Cromwell (joined by McLachlin, Moldaver, and Wagner), explicitly recognizes that cellphones are the functional equivalent of computers and that a search may constitute a significant intrusion of privacy. Yet the majority cautions that not every search is a significant intrusion. It ultimately concludes that there is the potential for a cellphone search to be intrusive, it does not believe that that will be the case in every instance.

Given that conclusion, it is prepared to permit cellphone searches that are incident to arrest provided that the law is modified with some additional protections against invasion of privacy. It proceeds to effectively write the law by creating four conditions: a lawful arrest, the search is incidental to the arrest with a valid law enforcement purpose, the search is tailored or limited to the purpose (i.e., limited to recent information), and police take detailed notes on what they have examined and how the phone was searched.

December 11, 2014

“Eyewitnesses” and the human mind

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Maggie McNeill discusses some of the problems we encounter when we depend on “eye witness accounts” of events:

If you haven’t yet read my research paper, “Mind-witness Testimony”, you really ought to […] The Reader’s Digest version is:

    … The human mind doesn’t passively record events as a camera does; memory is an active and dynamic process which retains information by fitting it into schemata, mental frameworks which shape our thinking and give meaning to perceptions … The same psychological mechanism which causes us to find pictures in Rorschach’s inkblots also causes us to fit memories into the complex web of schemata by which we interpret the world. And just as we ignore those topological elements of a cloud or inkblot which do not fit the meaning our minds have imposed upon it, so do we forget or distort elements of a memory which fail to conform to the schema in which we have embedded it, or even invent elements which were not in reality present, but which the schema predicts should be…The human mind often completely fabricates memories in order to impose conformity with one’s weltanschauung. One simple example involves police lineups: people will often identify the man whom police imply (subtly or overtly) is their preferred suspect because they believe police to be expert assessors of guilt who would never implicate someone falsely, and this schema of police authority and infallibility actually shapes their memories, sometimes to the point of identifying a person who is later proven to look absolutely nothing like the actual criminal…

In witch hunts of both the classic and modern varieties, hypersuggestible people such as children, the mentally ill, the emotionally needy or the severely traumatized can be induced to “remember” all sorts of fantastic things which are not even physically possible, much less grounded in actual events; when they repeat these “memories” in court (or in front of audiences hungry for “sex trafficking” narratives) they are not lying in the strict sense, but merely playing back a script that was written into their memories by processes such as suggestion, group polarization, stereotypic conformation, guided imagination, abusive interrogation tactics and others discussed in my paper. Though the concept of “recovered memory” has been discredited and most reasonably-well-informed people understand its role in driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize driving the Satanic panic, few have yet connected the dots to recognize “sex trafficking” narratives as produced by the same processes. However, as the public begins to recognize the fallibility of human memory, it’s inevitable that outlandish, evidence-free stories such as those told by Somaly Mam, Chong Kim and Theresa Flores will be treated with greater skepticism.

Megan McArdle on whether we should “automatically” believe rape accusations

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Megan McArdle isn’t impressed by the statement from Zerlina Maxwell in the Washington Post: “We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist.”.

Where to begin with this kind of statement?

For one thing, even an outlandish accusation would not exactly be cost-free; it could be devastating. There would be police interviews, professional questions. As Maxwell blithely notes in the piece, the accused might be suspended from his job. Does he have enough savings to live on until the questions are cleared? Many people don’t. What about the Google results that might live on years after he was cleared? Sure, he can explain them to a prospective girlfriend, employer, or sales prospect. But what if they throw his communication into the circular file before he gets a chance to explain? What about the many folks who will think (encouraged by folks like Maxwell) that the accusation would never have been made if he hadn’t done something to deserve it?

But while the effect on the accused is one major problem with uncritically accepting any accusation of rape, it is not the only problem. There’s another big problem — possibly, an even bigger one: what this does to the credibility of people who are trying to fight rape. And I include not only journalists, but the whole community of activists who have adopted a set of norms perhaps best summed up by the feminist meme “I believe.”

[…]

So let’s look at how these sorts of rules are actually being applied to rape victims on campus. Emily Yoffe’s new article on how these cases are being handled is an absolute must-read to understand this landscape. Seriously, go read it right now and come back. I’ll still be here.

What do you see in this article? People are frustrated by rape on campus and want it to stop. Their frustration is righteous, their goal laudable. In the name of this goal, however, they are trying to drive the rate of false negatives down to zero, and causing a lot of real problems for real people who are going through real anguish that goes far beyond weeping in the doctor’s office. The main character is a boy who had sex with a friend. According to his testimony and that of his roommate (who was there, three feet above them in a bunkbed), the sex was entirely consensual, if extremely ill-advised. According to Yoffe, after the girl’s mother found her diary, which “contained descriptions of romantic and sexual experiences, drug use, and drinking,” the mother called the campus and announced that she would be making a complaint against the boy her daughter had sex with. Two years later, after a “judicial” process that offered him little chance to tell his side, much less confront his accuser, he is unable to return to school, or to go anywhere else of similar stature because of the disciplinary action for sexual assault that taints his record.

As I’ve written before, the very nature of rape makes these problems particularly difficult. On campus, especially, sexual assaults usually offer no physical evidence except that of an act that goes on hundreds of times every day, almost always consensually, at those campuses. It involves only two witnesses, both of whom were often intoxicated.

December 10, 2014

QotD: Quality, innovation, and progress

Filed under: Economics, Liberty, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

December 9, 2014

The “broken windows theory” of policing … applied to the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:02

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf discusses an interesting application of the “broken windows theory”:

One of the most influential policing concepts of our era, the broken-windows theory, holds that disorder and crime are “usually inextricably linked in a kind of developmental sequence.” At the community level, ignoring disorder leads to more of it, just as a building with a broken window soon has other windows broken. That insight has been widely embraced by law enforcement in the United States. But as Ken White observed in a recent post, we’ve yet to apply it to police agencies. “If tolerating broken windows leads to more broken windows and escalating crime,” he asks, “what impact does tolerating police misconduct have?” He points to recent examples in order to argue that the consequences are dire:

    [J]ust as neighborhood thugs could once break windows with impunity, police can generally kill with impunity. They can shoot unarmed men and lie about it. They can roll up and execute a child with a toy as casually as one might in Grand Theft Auto. They can bumble around opening doors with their gun hand and kill bystanders, like a character in a dark farce, with little fear of serious consequences. They can choke you to death for getting a little mouthy about selling loose cigarettes. They can shoot you because they aren’t clear on who the bad guy is, and they can shoot you because they’re terrible shots, and they can shoot you because they saw something that might be a weapon in your hand—something that can be … any fucking thing at all, including nothing.

    … We’re not pursuing the breakers of windows. If anything, we are permitting the system … to entrench their protected right to act that way. We give them … third and fourth chances. We pretend they have supernatural powers of crime detection even when science shows that’s bullshit. We fight desperately to support their word even when they are proven liars. We sneer that “criminals have too many rights,” then give the armed representatives of our government stunning levels of procedural protections when they abuse or even kill us.

I’d never thought about police abuses in quite this way before. But it seems to me that the reforms implied by applying broken-windows theory to police officers are very similar to many of the policy changes that critics of policing have lately been advocating. How to consistently punish police officers at the first sign of disordered behavior? Record their interactions to a cloud server that they do not control. Assign independent prosecutors to handle cases of unlawful behavior. And end the practice of arbitrators reversing punishments given to misbehaving cops.

As a former St. Louis policeman put it in the Washington Post, “The problem is that cops aren’t held accountable for their actions, and they know it. These officers violate rights with impunity. They know there’s a different criminal justice system for civilians and police. Even when officers get caught, they know they’ll be investigated by their friends, and put on paid leave. My colleagues would laughingly refer to this as a free vacation. It isn’t a punishment. And excessive force is almost always deemed acceptable in our courts and among our grand juries. Prosecutors are tight with law enforcement, and share the same values and ideas.”

December 8, 2014

Reason‘s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch did an AMA at Reddit

Filed under: Liberty, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:04

The two Reason stalwarts did an “Ask Me Anything” session at Reddit last week:

Hello reddit.

We’re Matt Welch (/u/MattWelchReason) and Nick Gillespie (/u/Nick_Gillespie), the editors of Reason magazine, Reason.com and Reason TV and co-authors of 2011’s The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America.

Matt’s also the co-host of The Independents on Fox Business Network and Nick is a columnist for The Daily Beast and Time.com.

Go ahead and ask us anything about politics, culture, and ideas and the libertarian movement, 2016, you name it. But we’ve got to warn you that quite probably the toughest question — “Ever wonder what it’d look like if you switched faces?” — has already been asked and answered #triggerwarning

Proof: Matt and Nick

December 7, 2014

A Supreme Court decision that actually improved privacy rights for Canadians

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

The courts have far too often rolled over for any kind of police intrusions into the private lives of Canadians, but a decision from earlier this year has actually helped deter the RCMP from pursuing trivial or tangential inquiries into their online activity:

A funny thing happens when courts start requiring more information from law enforcement: law enforcers suddenly seem less interested in zealously enforcing the law.

Back in June of this year, Canada’s Supreme Court delivered its decision in R. v. Spencer, which brought law enforcement’s warrantless access of ISP subscriber info to an end.

    In a unanimous decision written by (Harper appointee) Justice Thomas Cromwell, the court issued a strong endorsement of Internet privacy, emphasizing the privacy importance of subscriber information, the right to anonymity, and the need for police to obtain a warrant for subscriber information except in exigent circumstances or under a reasonable law.

The effects of this ruling are beginning to be felt. Michael Geist points to a Winnipeg Free Press article that details the halcyon days of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s warrantless access.

    Prior to the court decision, the RCMP and border agency estimate, it took about five minutes to complete the less than one page of documentation needed to ask for subscriber information, and the company usually turned it over immediately or within one day.

Five minutes! Amazing. And disturbing. A 5-minute process indicates no one involved made even the slightest effort to prevent abuse of the process. The court’s decision has dialed back that pace considerably. The RCMP is now complaining that it takes “10 hours” to fill out the 10-20 pages required to obtain subscriber info. It’s also unhappy with the turnaround time, which went from nearly immediate to “up to 30 days.”

In response, the RCMP has done what other law enforcement agencies have done when encountering a bit of friction: given up.

    “Evidence is limited at this early stage, but some cases have already been abandoned by the RCMP as a result of not having enough information to get a production order to obtain (basic subscriber information),” the memo says.

December 2, 2014

The brief flicker of interest in the problems of police militarization

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

At Techdirt, Tim Cushing relives that brief, shining moment when the nation seemed to suddenly notice — and care about — the ongoing militarization of the police:

It’s an idea that almost makes sense, provided you don’t examine it too closely. America’s neverending series of intervention actions and pseudo-wars has created a wealth of military surplus — some outdated, some merely more than what was needed. Rather than simply scrap the merchandise or offload it at cut-rate prices to other countries’ militaries (and face the not-unheard-of possibility that those same weapons/vehicles might be used against us), the US government decided to distribute it to those fighting the war (on drugs, mostly) at home: law enforcement agencies.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, it quickly became a way to turn police departments into low-rent military operations. Law enforcement officials sold fear and bought assault rifles, tear gas, grenade launchers and armored vehicles. They painted vivid pictures of well-armed drug cabals and terrorists, both domestic and otherwise, steadily encroaching on the everyday lives of the public, outmanning and outgunning the servers and protectors.

It worked. The Department of Homeland Security was so flattered by the parroting of its terrorist/domestic extremist talking points that it handed out generous grants and ignored incongruities, like a town of 23,000 requesting an armored BearCat because its annual Pumpkinfest might be a terrorist target.

Then the Ferguson protests began after Michael Brown’s shooting in August, and the media was suddenly awash in images of camouflage-clad cops riding armored vehicles while pointing weapons at protesters, looking for all the world like martial law had been declared and the military had arrived to quell dissent and maintain control.

This prompted a discussion that actually reached the halls of Congress. For a brief moment, it looked like there might be a unified movement to overhaul the mostly-uncontrolled military equipment re-gifting program. But now that the indictment has been denied and the city of Ferguson is looted and burning, those concerns appear to have been forgotten.

November 30, 2014

Even the Marxists think laws “protecting” women are paternalistic and patronizing

Filed under: Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Britain’s Weekly Worker — subtitled “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” — Yassamine Mather argues that the demand for “safe spaces” is insulting to women and denies their legal and moral equality with men:

In her speech to LU conference the Communist Platform’s Tina Becker, arguing against the proposed ‘safe spaces’ document, said it was patronising and bureaucratic. What did she mean by these two adjectives?

The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures — actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.

On the contrary, as adults they need a progressive culture that encourages them and everyone else to challenge sexism, homophobia and racism. Comrades in Left Unity are not weak creatures: they are conscious individuals who recognise capitalism as their enemy — that is why they are in politics. They do not need protective legislation of the type social workers use when dealing with vulnerable children.

Here the example that comes to my mind is the struggles of Iranian women over the last 35 years. They had to fight misogyny not only at home, but in every aspect of social, political and economic life. The state claimed that their ‘safety’ was best maintained by segregation — in the home, or beneath the hijab in the street. But women rejected this from the first days of the Islamic Republic. They took to the streets and fought against misogynist legislation and, although there are still many battles to win, they have made great strides against all odds — to such an extent that the women’s movement in Iran is by far the most significant social movement of the region. Would they have been able to achieve this if in their battles against misogyny they had retreated to ‘safe spaces’? Of course not. On the contrary, it is precisely the ‘safe spaces’ provided by the clerical regime that they are rebelling against.

On the left the most effective way to fight sexism and racism is to make sure we battle against privileged positions and the abuse of power, against secrecy and cronyism. It was not lack of safe spaces that led to the disastrous situation in the Socialist Workers Party. It was secrecy, the power of those in authority, their ability to use ‘confidentiality’ to suppress reporting. A ‘safe spaces’ policy cannot protect women from a ‘comrade Delta’.

H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.

November 29, 2014

Another part of Robert Heinlein’s legacy

Filed under: Business, History, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

John C. Wright explains why Robert A. Heinlein was so important to the development of the science fiction field:

If you are unfamiliar with the name Robert Heinlein, he is rightly called the Dean of Science Fiction; his pen is the one that first broke through from the pulps into the slicks, and then into juveniles, and then into the mainstream. Were it not for him, we would still be a Hugo Gernsbeckian ghetto.

Heinlein was also a bold advocate for equality of all races and both sexes, at a time when such ideas were not discussed in polite society. He was the main champion in our little Science Fiction ghetto of all things Progressive and Leftwing, that is, the Leftwing of that time. (They have since reversed their standards, for example, swapping a principled opposition to censorship to a full-throated advocacy of it, or swapping an unprincipled opposition to monogamy to an even more unprincipled advocacy of abstinence combined with libertinism.)

The Left owe Heinlein an immense debt of gratitude. Ergo they are ungrateful.

While working on the novel that was to become Rocket Ship Galileo, Heinlein warned his agent that the inclusion of an ethnically diverse cast was not only deliberate — it was non-negotiable, and if an editor requested the removal of the Jewish character, Blassingame (the agent) was to take the book elsewhere.

This is from the letter Heinlein wrote to his agent about his wishes:

    “I have deliberately selected a boy of Scotch-English pioneer ancestry, a boy whose father is a German immigrant, and a boy who is American Jewish. Having selected this diverse background they are then developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds. You may run into an editor who does not want one of the young heroes to be Jewish. I will not do business with such a firm. The ancestry of the three boys is a “must” and the book is offered under those conditions. My interest was aroused in this book by the opportunity to show to kids what I conceive to be Americanism. The use of a diverse group … is part of my intent; it must not be changed. … I am as disinterested as a referee but I want to get over an object lesson in practical democracy.”

Commenting on this is one Mitch Wagner, freak, writing on the blog maintained by Tor books — one of the largest and most well-respected names in science fiction publishing, as well as being my own publisher. This is not some overlooked corner or outlier opinion.

Wagner snarks:

    This is all admirable, but let’s keep in mind what’s missing from this cast: Asians; disabled people; non-Americans of any kind; lesbians, gays, and the transgendered; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or representatives of the other major world religions. Heinlein’s book was enormously ethnically diverse in that it included the full variety of American Judeo-Christian boys.

    And even the notion that the ethnically diverse boys are “developed as American boys without reference to their backgrounds” is a little creepy.

The freakish Mr. Wagner is not satisfied that Heinlein stormed the breach for them, being the first science fiction writer to put a Jew (Morrie Abrams from Rocket Ship Galileo), a Filipino (Juan Rico, Starship Troopers), a Negro (Rod Walker from Tunnel in the Sky implicitly and Mr. Kiku from The Star Beast explicitly) a Mohammedan (Dr. “Stinky” Mahmoud from Stranger in a Strange Land) or a Maori girl (Podkayne from Podkayne of Mars) in the spotlight as a main character and hero or heroine, but then criticizes Heinlein for not having as a main character … who? A cross-dressing homosexual castrati Hindu as a main character in a children’s book published in 1947? The Democrat Party still had Jim Crow laws and segregation in the South, and in those days the militant arm of the Democrat Party, the KKK, were still lynching blacks.

Do you understand to what the freakish Mr. Wagner is objecting? He is objecting to the melting pot theory that men of different races, locked into endless mutual hatred in the old world, can leave their hatred behind here in the new world. He is objecting to racelessness. Hence, he is a racist.

Heinlein showed backbone and gorm and ran the risk of being blackballed and put out of business by the Left (who, then as now, have major influence amounting to near total control in the New York publication industry) — and for this bold stance, unheard-of at the time, the gormless and freakish Mr Wagner criticizes Mr. Heinlein.

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