How the political system fails its citizens

There are many posts online explaining what is happening in the crazy world of politics and many of them contain great details. I came across this one on Quora. Its long and it is trying to predict but the best part is the “why things are wrong analysis” which feels spot on. Check out Between Trump and Clinton who will win US presidential election?

The post addresses three main issues:

Trump’s rise stems from three major, interrelated factors.
1. The American political system has failed the majority of its citizens.
2. The American people, or rather large swathes of them, are politically ignorant. It’s important to not take this as an insult although I know many of you will anyway. There is nothing pejorative about the word ignorant. I for example am ignorant of many things- the rules of baseball, how to perform open heart surgery, how to express the likely path of a tornado as a mathematical equation and so on. Not knowing these things does not make me stupid or a bad person, I just never took the time to learn them.
3. The level of sophistry and distraction from real issues has reached such fever-pitch that few now trust anything that is said by media and politicians alike.

My focus of interest was on point 1 how the American political system has developed into the thing it is. Ian Jackson writes in an engaging humorous way and hits most of the main points as to why the system has become the way it has.

Democracy cannot ignore technology: Notes from a lecture

Not really sure if this should be called a lecture as it was part of a panel presentation where we were allotted 15 minutes each and then questions. The setting was interesting as it was part of the Swedish Parliaments annual conference about the future and the people asking the questions were all politicians. So for my 15 minutes (of fame?) I chose to expand on the ill effects of politics ignoring technology (or taking it as a stable, neutral given).

The presentation began with a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes jr.

It cannot be helped, it is as it should be, that the law is behind the times.

What I wanted to do was to explain that the law has always been seen as playing catchup. This is not a bug in the law it is a feature of the law. Attempting to create laws that are before the time would be wasteful, unpopular and quite often full of errors about what we think future problems would be. I wanted to include a quote from Niels Bohr

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.

But time was short and I needed to avoid meandering down interesting – but unhelpful – alleyways.

Instead I reminded the audience that many of our fundamental rights and freedoms are 300 years old and, despite being updated, they are prone to being increasingly complex to manage or even outdated when the basic technological realities have changed. This was the time of Voltaire who is today mainly famous for saying

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it

(Actually he never said this. The words were put in his mouth by the later writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall. But lets not let the truth get in the way of a good story.)

The period saw the development of fantastic modern concepts such as democracy, free speech and autonomy may be seen as products of the enlightenment. They remain core values in spite of the fact that our technological developments have totally changed the world in which we live. For the sake of later comparison I added that the killer app of the time was the quill. Naturally there were printing presses but as these are not personal communication devices they provide easier avenues of control for states. In other words developing concepts of free speech must be seen in the light of what individuals had the ability to do.

As I had been asked to talk about technology and society I chose to exemplify with the concept of copyright which was launched by the Statute of Ann in 1710. In Sweden copyright was introduced into law in the 19th century and the most recent thorough re-working of the law was in the 1950 with the modern (and present) Swedish copyright Act entering into the books in 1960. The law has naturally been amended since then but has received no major reworking since then. The killer app of the 1960s? Well it probably was the pill – but that’s hardly relevant, so I looked at radio and tv. The interesting thing about these is that they are highly regulated and controlled mass mediums. While they are easy to access for the consumer, they are hardly platforms of speech for a wider group of people.

Moving along to the Internet, the web, social media and the massive increases in personal devices have created a whole new ball game. These have create a whole new way of social interaction among citizens. The mass medium of one to many is not the monopoly player any more. So what should the regulator be aware of? Well they must take into consideration the ways in which new technologies are changing actual social interaction on many levels and also the changes in fundamental social values that are coupled with our expectations on the justice system.

The problem is that all to often regulators (as they are ordinary people) tend to take as their starting point, their own user experience. In order to illustrate what I meant I include one of my favorite Douglas Adams quotes (it’s from The Salmon of Doubt)

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Therefore it is vital not to ignore the role of technology, or to underestimate its effects. Looking at technology as – simply technology – i.e. as a neutral tool that does not effect us is incredibly dangerous. If we do not understand this then we will be ruled by technology. Naturally not by technology but by those who create and control technology. Law and law makers will become less relevant to the way in which society works. Or does not work.

In order to illustrate this, I finished off with a look at anti-homless technology – mainly things like park benches which are specifically designed to prevent people from sleeping on benches. In order to exclude an undesirable group of people from a public area the democratic process must first define a group as undesirable and then obtain a consensus that this group is unwelcome. All this must be done while maintaining the air of democratic inclusion – it’s a tricky, almost impossible task. But by buying a bench which you cannot sleep on, you exclude those who need to sleep on park benches (the homeless) without even needing to enter into a democratic discussion.

If this is done with benches, then what power lies in the control of a smart phone?

Here are the slides used with the lecture.

Great idea: Nordic Techpolitics

Thanks to the hard work of people like Bente Kalsnes the first Nordic Techpolitics conference will be held in Oslo on Friday 2 September. The event

…is a must-attend conference for everyone interested in how technology is changing politics, government and societies in the Nordic countries.


Technological changes affect every aspects of society, and institutions and policy makers are struggling to catch up with the latest tools and possibilities. This conference will explore how we can use technology to improve politics and governance, increase participation and create smarter solutions in everyday life. We will also peek into some of the dark sides of how technology is changing society for worse.

Expect to learn about how transparency, innovation and collaboration are the driving forces for change in modern societies.

Check out the schedule here.

Politics and social media #msmboras

Tomorrow is the second annual MSMBorås (twitter @msmboras & #msmboras) a growing interesting conference on the relationship between politics and social media. One of the great things is that this meeting does not take place in the political center of Sweden (i.e. Stockholm) but in the town of Borås.

The meeting is a good mix between researchers and active politicians, political commentators/observers and social media aficionados.

This year is opened by Matthew Barzun who will speak on the topic Social media, politics and democracy in the US. Today Barzun is the US Ambassador to Sweden but he has worked on Obama’s first campaign and has been invited back to lead the coming presidential campaign.

This will be followed by Marie Grusell talking on twitter in political elections, Per Schlingmann & Hampus Brynolf on social media in politics now and in the future, Anders Kihl on social media in local politics.

After lunch Jan Nolin presents on Wikipolitics as a collective method of political problem solving, Grethe Lindhe on citizen dialogues, Lars Höglund on the citizens opinions of social media in politics, then I will talk about legal consequences of social media use (kind of boring title – I wish I had chosen more wisely). Then the day is closed with a discussion.

This is going to be extremely interesting.

Act for you rights – or lose them!

One of the greatest hinders to access and reuse of cultural material lies in the long terms of protection. The way in which copyright law works today is that it automatically protects (almost) all forms of cultural production (mainly) for a period of the life of the author plus 70 years. The effect of this is that nothing produced in my lifetime will be free in my lifetime.

This extension of the time of copyright is a major shift in the original idea of the bargain of copyright. The bargain was that the creator receives a limited monopoly and in return society will eventually receive the products of his or her work.  Today the bargain is that the creator is protected and then his or her heirs take over the monopoly. This results in the situation where the children or grandchildren of the creator have the exclusive rights to the work.

My criticism is that the grandchildren of the creator should not have better rights to the work just because they have a genetic link to the author.

One area where the term of protection has remained shorter is the time span under which sound recordings are protected. But now the argument is why should sound recordings be discriminated against? Instead of arguing that the terms of protection are too long.

We all now have a chance to send a message and prevent this progress. Check out this attempt from the Open Rights Group to prevent this development. Read! And work for your rights.

The disastrous proposal to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings to 70 years is back on the European Council’s agenda.

There is a chance to stop this. You can help by writing to your MEPs now to tell them about your concerns, and ask them to make sure the Directive gets proper scrutiny from the European Parliament.

The economic evidence is stacked against the proposal. It will result in large parts of our cultural history being locked up. And it will benefit only a small number of artists and businesses. Leading IP professors, the UK government’s ‘Gowers  Review’ of IP, and independent analysts commissioned by the EU have all said that extending the copyright term is unwise. You can read more about the evidence here.

You can help to make sure European decision makers look again at this damaging proposal by writing to your MEP now.

Fields of Gold: Lifting the Veil on Europe's Farm Subsidies

The European Union spends €55 billion a year on farm subsidies. Until recently the question of where the money goes was a closely-guarded secret. But thanks to a campaign by journalists, researchers and computer programmers, European taxpayers now have the right to know how their tax money is spent. This short film tells the story of

Fields of Gold: Lifting the Veil on Europe’s Farm Subsidies from on Vimeo.

Street art and social commentary

Being a big fan of street art I often spend time in new cities looking for interesting examples and in Turin I found some really cool stuff. The two best projects I found were the portrayals of Muslim women and an excellent media criticism project. While I realize that many are critical to what they see as a defacement of public space it is important to remember that art can act as a conduit for social commentary, giving voice to those who might not otherwise have one. This is particularly true in the case of street art since the public street is more easily accessible to the artist than the gallery.

In addition to this these public spaces are available to all people without requiring them to enter into the unfamiliar  structured work of “established” art. Many may feel unsure of how “established” art may be interpreted, this coupled with a fear of making a fool of oneself makes it easier to ignore art rather than attempt to participate in the discussion. Street art places no such demands. It is immediate and easily accessible: either you like it, or you don’t. Either it talks to you, or it doesn’t. They are our streets and everyone has a right to an opinion. No hierarchical canon rules our opinions.

The media criticism project was a humorous portrayal of the way in which media controls our minds and makes us into robots.

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The Muslim women project was a colorful and thoughtful portrayal of women in everyday situations. My favorite pictures were the ones were the women are interacting with technology and showing that we are all the same.

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The artist has presented the motivations for his project in the Wooster Collective:

“My project deals with the representation of Muslim women and their social condition. I was been studying and dealing with this theme for years. As you can imagine, here in Turin, my posters are seen as an ambiguous subject. Some people mislead and rip them, while others love them. I would like to make people know that there is nothing strange with this particular subject: Muslim women are equal if compared to Western women. My Muslim women are represented in daily life situations: they are mothers, grandmothers and daughters, smoking, taking pictures and smiling. My message is: pointing out that Muslim women have the same needs and necessities of the majority of Western women. Certainly, the only exception is the veil. The veil changes in different countries, and here comes the sociological aspect of my work: I am very careful in rendering the different types of veil, the Maghrebi veil, the Afghani burga and the Iranian chador.

In my opinion, nowadays it’s crucial to conceive street art as a tool to spread social messages. Moreover, I made a deep research and I discovered that I am the only artist, in the street art movement, that deals entirely with this topic. Isn’t it strange? In general, the woman is the best source of inspiration for artists, why Muslim women wouldn’t be the same? I would like to create a network of artists of all nations, about this subject, eventually to compare the different viewpoints.

My posters are drawn and coloured freehand, each of them is unique. The subjects are not invented but real, I use images taken from newspapers, magazines and websites. Often they are portraits of important personalities of Muslim society (novelists, poets, entrepreneurs, feminists etc…), in order to make Western societies know who they are and what they do.”… BR1 on Flickr

Pluto is a planet again, at least in Illinois

The government of Illinois has declared that Pluto is a planet.

RESOLVED, BY THE SENATE OF THE NINETY-SIXTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, that as Pluto passes overhead through Illinois’ night skies, that it be reestablished with full planetary status, and that March 13, 2009 be declared “Pluto Day” in the State of Illinois in honor of the date its discovery was announced in 1930.

In 2006 the International Astronomical Union resolution created an official definition for the term “planet”.  But since Pluto did not meet the criteria (Pluto had not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit) it was demoted from full Planet to dwarf planet. This decision was not without a serious amount of angry arguing amongst astronomers, amateurs and others.

Obviously the Government of Illinois disagree with the IAU – but why? Well the person who discovered Pluto was born in their state so the demotion of the planetary status also demotes the local pride and tourist value (seriously? is there a tourist value in being the state where the man who discovered Pluto was born?)

This is really cool – imagine if states began randomly redefining nature to suit their political needs?

Well its a good way to begin the weekend with a smile.

(via Discovery Blogs)

Interesting course offered at Lund

Intellectual property tends to be taught by and to lawyers which is a shame since they tend to focus on addressing the questions of how the law works. This handyman approach is necessary since most of the students are going to go out an apply the law – the idea is that they do not really need to understand the law beyond its application. We do not educate law students we simply fill them with facts.

So when law courses are taught outside the auspices of the law department it’s time to sit up and listen.

The course Intellectual Property and Digital Information: Law, Politics, and Culture is being offered by the section for ABM (Archive, Library, Information and Museum Science) of the Department of Cultural Sciences. Here is part of the course description:

The course is intended to deal with these issues from a number of different perspectives, specifically considering cultural, political, legal, but also economical aspects, including those relevant outside a Western context. It will provide an overview of the legal situation in a national, European, and international setting and also look at some hotly debated disputes and international agreements. We will gain an understanding of the various forms of intellectual property (copyright, patent, trademark, etc.) as well as concern ourselves with alternative concepts including the creative commons, open access, open source, and also file-sharing and piracy, and anchor them in a cultural and political context.

See what I mean? Lawyers would hardly be interested in the wider perspective in this manner. I wonder if I should apply to the course…