Shooting Back

Providing cameras and video cameras to different groups is not an uncommon method which allows the subjects to bring their own lives into focus without the direct mediation of the “outsider” camera/filmmaker. Naturally all uses of technology contain risks of bias and slanted views – nobody still believes that the camera never lies? Even if many still believe that fashion images are “real”.

In January 2007, B’Tselem launched Shooting Back, a video advocacy project focusing on the Occupied Territories. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights.

In projects such as these technology in the form of the cameras and Internet as a distribution medium can be used to empower those involved in a conflict while still providing a preaceful alternative way of coping with everyday violence.

Torture Established

CNN reports that the organization Physicians for Human Rights have conducted clinical evaluations of 11 former detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. The report from Physicians for Human Rights shows that the prisoners have been tortured

“We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering,” said Dr. Allen Keller, a medical evaluator for the study.

In a 121-page report, the doctors’ group said that it uncovered medical evidence of torture, including beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sodomy and scores of other abuses.

The report is prefaced by retired U.S. Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003. “There is no longer any doubt that the current administration committed war crimes,” Taguba says. “The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account.”

The rights group demands:

• “Repudiate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”;

• Establish an independent commission to investigate and report publicly the circumstances of detention and interrogation at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay;

• Hold individuals involved in torturing detainees accountable through criminal and civil processes; and

• Monitor thoroughly the conditions at U.S.-run prisons all over the world.

Do you own your library?

After having packed most of my books into boxes, physically transported them to their new home and placed them haphazardly in the bookshelves to await the slower and more pleasurable task of re-arranging my books I feel a strong sense of ownership, property and belonging. My books are part of who I am. Their physical appearance and their content are telltale clues to the identity of their owner.

I have previously written against the e-book but there is a specific issue which is important to point out. Cory Doctorow has written a short note entitled In the age of ebooks, you don’t own your library. The note points out the tendency of e-books to limit the rights previously held by the book reader. Today when buying files for the e-book reader the transaction is often termed as a license and may (this needs to be tested in the courts) limit the ways in which we can buy, sell, borrow and copy our books. In the worst case scenario licenses such as these will spell the end of borrowing books from friends and become another nail in the coffin of the second hand bookstore. Cory writes:

It’s funny that in the name of protecting “intellectual property,” big media companies are willing to do such violence to the idea of real property — arguing that since everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone’s copyright, patent and trademark, that we’re basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who’ve seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.

The physical property we own will be dependent upon our behavior towards the content we require to fill it. Television requires the shows and we must pay the cable company, computers require software and we must license it, e-books will require us to subscribe to the rules of those who own the content.

Unless we stick to the old fashioned paper versions of course…

YouTube & Crime

The media in Sweden is (understandably) full about reports of the school shootings in Finland.* This is to be expected. But what surprises me is the focus on the fact that the perpetrator had made a video and posted it on YouTube.

The focus of Swedish media on the YouTube connection shows a fundamental lack of understanding about the use of technology today. The surprise should not be that a young disturbed man planning a school massacre places a video on YouTube but we should be surprised if the young man had not done so. The YouTube suicide note must be as predictable as death & taxes.

Despite this, the media calls in “experts” and asks them to explain what kind of anti-social cesspit YouTube is. They ask about the responsibility of YouTube, they ask why the events predicted in the film could not be stopped. They want to know how to prevent children from accessing YouTube to watch movies such as these and whether or not the films online are creating copycats.

Basically people do not seem to understand the YouTube culture. Firstly it is not a sub-culture. YouTube is a massive collection of sub-cultures. Secondly, YouTube is the logical result of camera and communications technology. It collects everything from death to porn (and death with porn), from toddlers to seniors, from party to study. Basically every type of activity that can be recorded on film is to be found there.

And the audience has seen it all. Here are some examples of search results:

  • School violence 1770 videos
  • Going postal 193 videos
  • Weapons 126 000 videos
  • Death 584 000 videos

And the audience has seen it all before.

So even if the audience had seen a young troubled Finn posing with a gun, shooting in the forest and making threats against the society around him – what was the audience supposed to do? Nobody runs out of a movie theater to get a cop because a murder is about to be committed. We just sit back, munch our popcorn and wait for the ending to come.  The difference with YouTube is that the people watching can comment on the film and others can comment on the comments of others.

YouTube cannot be blamed for the site just as the audience cannot be blamed for not acting against the rantings of yet another gun-toting youth. The outrage should not be against the communications technology of the day but against the ability of disturbed people to be able to legally carry lethal weapons. For lets face it, if he had been armed with a knife, a hammer or a big stick – none of us would ever have heard of the Jokela high school in Tusby, Finland.

*The school shooting in Finland was another tragedy of the type we have almost come to expect on a regular basis. Probably the most shocking thing for Scandinavians is that this is the kind of thing that happens “only in America”. There is obviously no basis for this belief it’s just something everyone “knows” and therefore the shock is greater when our established knowledge is irrefutably challenged. No matter where things like this happen they are tragedies and the world should mourn the loss of life and innocence.

Regulating Violence

Is the regulation of violence in video/computer games censorship? Or is it a question of protecting the innocent? Naturally paternalism in all forms includes a “pappa knows best” attitude however there are cases of censorship/control/paternalism which we can accept and other forms which we tend to react against.

The forms of Internet censorship (more here) displayed by states such as China and Saudi Arabia are usually criticized as forms of censorship unacceptable in democratic societies while they themselves argue the need to protect their cultures and citizens against the corrupting influences online. It is, it may seem, a question of perspectives.

Then what of the regulation of violent computer games? Are computer games supposed to be seen as forms of speech to be protected? Or are we on a dangerous slippery slope when we start excluding forms of speech? The New York Times has an article showing that the US courts tend to find laws against computer game unconstitutional.

Considering the US approach to Free Expression this is not surprising. The European approach – in particular the French, German and Scandinavian models could not be as clear cut in this question. This only means that the US is against censorship and feels the cost of this decision is worth it, while many other jurisdictions feel that the damage caused by this extreme acceptance of free expression may cause discomfort and hardship to individuals and groups beyond the eventual benefits of the speech.

The ever eloquent Judge Posner is quoted in the article:

“Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low,” he wrote. “It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware. To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it.”

The problem is that there is often great value (moral rather than economic) in quixotic pursuits and the practice of subjecting people to hardships in order to prepare them for eventual future hardships is really only useful in military training and never a satisfactory way of raising children.

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.

Death Threats Against Blogger

Techie and editor Kathy Sierra has been intimidated into canceling her appearance at the ETech conference where she was going to present a keynote and hold a workshop. In her blog Creating Passionate Users she explains why. She has received threats of violence and death threats in comments on her blog and other blogs.

Read Kathy Sierra’s story on her blog (entry here). Hope that they catch the little shit (hiding behind anonymity) who writes anonymous threats and that Kathy will be back soon.

Back in the office

It’s kind of creepy. Back in the office my Far Side calender is on 23 January, some of the plants are almost dead, there is a pile of snail mail and little tasks which seem to have been ignored under the principle: “since he isn’t here…” Despite the fact that the temperature is -3 and there is an unseemly pile of work to be done – it’s good to be back in the chair.

While unpacking and organising yesterday I discovered that I had managed to buy “only” these books while in India (in part this was due to a book sale we were take to): The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (by Louis Fischer) this was recommended to me as the authoritative biography. The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History and Identity (by Amartya Sen) I have not read enough of Senâ??s work but I do like his work. After reading the preface I know that I shall enjoy this work very much. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (by Amartya Sen) another of Senâ??s works, this one argues for a better understanding of multiculturalism against violent nationalism.

Madness and Civilization: A history of insanity in the age of reason by Michel Foucault, I do not have my own copy so when this popped up at an Indian book sale: say no more! Inside the Wire: A military intelligence soldier’s eyewitness account of life at Guantanamo (by Erik Saar & Viveca Novak) not sure about the depth but it is a subject of great importance.

Wars of the 21st Century: New Threats New Fears (by Ignacio Ramonet) the nice thing about ending up buying books in India is that the focus shifts from the usual suspects that populate my local stores. Ramonet seems to be very relevant to my interests. Democracy’s Place (Ian Shapiro) simply could not resist this. War and the Media: Reporting Conflict 24/7 (edited by Daya Kishan Thussu & Des Freedman) a exciting anthology on the subject of war & media. The Art of the Feud: Reconceptualizing International Relations (by Jose V. Ciprut) this is an exciting fresh look which I just happened across at the sale.

Simply from the point of view of new input the trip was very rewarding.

Long Long Day

Too many impressions and a long long day. Walked around and found a bookstore where I bought Amartya Senâ??s Identity and Violence â?? The Illusion of Destiny and an anthology edited by Thussu & Freedman entitled War and the Media – Reporting Conflict 24/7.

Then we went to the Indian Institute of Technology to be present at the Creative Commons India launch â?? Welcome! There were speeches by (among others) Joichi Ito & Lawrence Liang which was followed by dinner and conversation. Now itâ??s late and tomorrow is an early start.

End of Anonymous Drinking

Once again the United Kingdom is pushing itself into the forefront of the implementation of surveillance technology.

In an attempt to curb alcohol related violence and under-age drinking pubs are now increasing the use of an experimental system that involves taking fingerprints identification data from pub patrons. Once the patrons have been identified all they need to do is to scan their fingerprints at the door to be admitted.

The scheme has been applauded for simplifying the hassle of identity cards and the database will also make it possible for pubs to ban violent patrons for limited time periods.

Schemes such as this are usually launched on the idea of security and fears are downplayed by the use of the word voluntary. The problem being that schemes such as this are invasive as they are (even worse if they are abused). Additionally the idea of voluntary as a protection of integrity is not enough.

Once voluntary systems are implemented it usually does not take long before those in charge begin to view those who have not volunteered as first being annoying since they disrupt the system and then suspicious since they â??obviouslyâ?? have something to hide.


The Register

(via Slashdot)