Seafood is Politics

Eat fish, don’t eat fish, don’t eat cod, eat salmon, shellfish is bad, or good. Giant prawns help developing countries or screw up the environment.

Fish is confusing. Since I don’t eat meat or poulty fish is the main source of food confusion. It should be easier since I don’t have to worry about so may foodstuffs… its not I am confused and I have, I admit, been avoiding the issue.

Some help in this tangle of issues is the the booklet Fish Dish: Exposing the Unacceptable Face of Seafood published by the WWF (2006).

  • Illegal fishing
  • Overfishing
  • Wasteful fishing
  • Unselective fishing
  • Destructive fishing
  • Unfair fishing

The text does not make life easier but it does inform in a brutally honest way. Treat your next plate of sushi with respect – read Fish Dish.
(Via Lunkens Blog)

Web Politics

Andrew Chadwick (author of Internet Politics – fantastic book which I reviewed for Information, Communication & Ethics in Society) is organizing a conference Politics Web 2.0 to be held at Royal Holloway, University of London in April 2008.

Has there been a shift in political use of the Internet and digital new media – a new Web 2.0 politics based on participatory values? How do broader social, cultural, and economic shifts towards Web 2.0 impact, if at all, on the contexts, the organizational structures, and the communication of politics and policy? Does Web 2.0 hinder or help democratic citizenship? This conference provides an opportunity for researchers to share and debate perspectives.

(via Lex Ferenda)

Politics of Regulation – Violent games

The EU met yesterday to discuss the regulation of violent computer games to minors. This follows situations such as the German guman who last year shot several people before taking his life at a secondary school.

A European Union Commissioner, taking advantage of the shootings last year, has called for stricter regulations in the video game industry. A motion introduced last month calls for legislators to â??put in place all necessary measures to ban the sale of particularly violent and cruel video games.â?? (From Lawbean)

The impact of violent games, films and magazines on people (in particular impressionable minors) is questionable. Researchers have found results both to support and to deny any serious impact. The main problem is that no real study can be undertaken to ensure reliable data.

A research method would be to take two groups of children and allow one full access to violence while the other group was fed with “better” material. The drawback with this method is that it would (if true) require the creation of a group of disturbed people.

The next drawback is that the interpretation of the results would also be under question. Are the children being affected by the violence in the games or simply by the long use of computers and/or television?  Would long term exposure for long periods to peaceful activities (flower arrangement?) not lead to an equally a-social development?

This is not to say that I find the regulation of violent computer games to be a wrong goal. I just dislike bad science and the misuse of “scientific data” for political goals.

The obvious step

It is the next obvious step. But still it does not make it a good move. Tony Blair has moved politics a step further into cyberspace by being the first politician to open a channel on YouTube.

What is the momentous occasion? It’s just Blair congratulating Sarkozy for his election success. There is an English and French version.

Personally I think its all kind of boring… and just a bit sad…

War blogs silenced

Wired News reports that In a directive (dated 19th April) US troops have been ordered not to blog without first clearing each post with a superior officer. There is also a discussion going on at the Wired Blog Danger Room.

Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq — the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result.

The new rules (.pdf) obtained by Wired News require a commander be consulted before every blog update.

It’s hardly a surprising move. It’s doubtful whether blogs were revealing security information (US troops should be better trained in this case) but on several occasions information on blogs and films of YouTube (for example Iraqi kids run for water) have caused embarrassing situations which hardly have improved anyone’s opinions of the war.

Social Impact of the Web

If you happen to be in London on 25th May then you may want to attend the RSA special event Social Impact of the Web: Society, Government and the Internet. With speakers Cass Sunstein, Tom Steinberg, Andrew Chadwick, William Davies, Matthew Taylor, Bronwyn Kunhardt, Georgina Henry it promises to be a very interesting day (in addition to this the event is free). Unfortunately I will not be in London so I cannot attend (how annoying) I would very much have liked to have been there.

Here is the text from the advert:

How can new internet technology empower us to interact with each other in novel ways?

This conference will address this question by focusing on the political culture and norms that the internet has been instrumental in fostering, both in relation to centralised politics and more diffuse social and civic networks.

It will also look at the psychology of the internet â?? as we create virtual fully living worlds, lines may be crossed between what is real and unreal in our lives.

Virtual environments let people create their own digital identity with their own unique psychology. When online do we treat people differently, does the technology that we are using change how we would behave in the real world? If people create their own representation what does it say about them and what are the wider implications, social and political.

To book a place at this conference visit

Location: RSA, 8 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6EZ
Date: 25 May 2007
Time: 10.30am – 4.00pm

Gun Control?

Waking up to the story of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech which left at least 33 people dead brings back the question of gun control. Obviously there are crazy people everywhere but when they are able to get hold of serious firearms the devastation escalates. The American attitude towards guns has always seemed strange to me. The idea that the second amendment grants the right to bear arms may have been a good thing at some stage but that was in the time of the muzzle loader.

The right to have automatic weapons with armor piercing bullets can not have been what anyone meant. The technology of firepower has evolved beyond the scope of the constitution – how many tragedies must occur before this becomes obvious.

Gun politics on wikipedia and the point of view of the NRA.

Defence and Environment

What do the Minister of Defence and the Minister of the Environmnet have in common – besides politics? Well today I recieved a letter from the Minister of Defence thanking me for sending my PhD to him three months ago. The Minister of the Environment thanked me in January. Therefore they both have good manners. All the other ministers (including the Prime Minister) either have no manners, no staff or both – since they have not said thank you.

Actually since they were all part of a new cabinett selected close after the election and my thesis defence I sent all the newbies copies of my thesis  Disruptive Technology: Effects of Technology Regulation on Democracy. I didn’t expect a reply from any of them but it’s nice to see that at least two ministers are polite.

Privacy Attitudes

One of the problems faced by researchers working with privacy is the fundamental question of why people do not care about privacy? It is easy to see either from studies or by simply looking at peopleâ??s behaviour that privacy is not a big thing for many people.

Oh course if you were to ask the question: Is you privacy important to you? Then most people would reply that their privacy was important. But if we look at the way in which people act with their privacy then we get the real picture. There is a radical difference between the way in which people want to be perceived (i.e. privacy conscious) and the way in which they act.

What does this mean? Well some of the discrepancy between the peopleâ??s theoretical and real standpoints can be explained by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the privacy threats. So for example, it is difficult to blame people for being unconcerned with their privacy simply because they us gmail or similar services.

A similar argument can be made to cover those who have no choice but to use less private alternatives. But wait! before you begin to argue that there is always a choice not to use the technology at all, I want to point out being a Luddite is not an option for many people and neither is it for you, considering where you got a hold of this text.

Why is peopleâ??s perception of privacy a problem? Well if we argue the right to privacy (and I often do) then the fact that people do not care about privacy makes this a problem. Can there be a human right if it is unwanted? For a long time I used the smoker analogy.

Smokers want to be healthy but still do not quit smoking despite all the information available. This is not meant to be understood as smokers do not want to be healthy, nor does it invalidate their right to healthcare. The problem with privacy however is that either you have it or you donâ??t.

Recently Paul Saffo wrote about the online habits of the young be warning them that they will come to regret their openness and online presences:

Which is why I pity teens today, for in a few decades their sophomoric musings will deliver a vast embarrassment utterly unknown to earlier generations. It is not that their words are any sillier than earlier generations; rather teens today have had the misfortune of being the first generation to record their thoughts in cyberspace where those thoughts will remain perfectly preserved until some wag drags them out at a school reunion or the authorâ??s children discover the IM affections that passed between mom and dad.

Saffo’s post seems to come as a reaction to (or proof of concept) the peice by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker “Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap Since Rock and Roll“.

Basically people (many of them young – but by no means all) are putting their lives online – innermost thoughts, bad poetry, homespun politics, private erotica and everything else that was previously covered by privacy. Add to this the number of cameras and videos that surround us – almost one in every pocket. We have a situation where every embarassing situation is recorded and transmitted to the rest of the disinterested world. The material is also stored away for no reason to resurface at a later date – even though I think most of it will be lost on trashed computers long before the future.

So the concern is: children doing things today with technology will live to regret it later.  And it will be a lot worse than when “we” were young since there will be texts and photos around to prove it.

I disagree.

The mass of material produced today will sink into obscurity. Yes some material (potentially embarassing) will remain to be found. But this change will not create the scandal that such material cuases today. Finding an embarrasing image from the teenage past of a prominent figure of today is hardly newsworthy – but it is considered to be news. In twenty years it will not even be news.

The self publication of ones teenage life and angst will not create a generation of people neurotic about the fact that someone may remember them or their thoughts, it will create a generation of people who can say that they were teenagers in much the same way as all other teenages were.

What about privacy?

This is not the death of privacy. Privacy is a “floating” value. Ideas of what is, and what should be, private change in culture, time and space. The only shock that we are seeing here is the death of the privacy concept as it has been understood by the “others” or “outsiders” – in other words it is the attempt of those outside the group to dictate norms on those inside the group.