Thursday, August 16, 2007

Finally Found What I'm Looking For

Via Schneier, this article on FBI informants infiltrating Muslim communities is worth a read. The railroad of causal inanity goes something like this: Feds wants to net more terrorists, so hire Informants. Informants are often ex-crims now getting paid good by FBI. Informants want to prove their worth (and not get slammed away), so Informants want muslims to have terrorist tendencies. Informants pressure muslims. Muslims persuaded into terrorism when otherwise not. More "terrorists" caught. More distrust between and within communities. More potential terrorists produced. Less potential terrorists reported.

Hussam Ayloush highlights the confusion that infests society as a whole:
"On one hand, they are asked to report suspicious activity, but on the other hand, they are left without any protection once the suspected terrorist or informant gets angry and chooses to retaliate against those who reported him"
This is similar to the problems the Police face following gang-related activity. Arresting a sole figure ignores network effects and the possibility of retribution, and in itself is a decent reason to re-think the "suspect it, report it" tactic.

But alongside this, we continue to get a very confused message. Should trouble be dealt with at a Police level, or at a Community level? If I report my friend to the Police, how does that harm a community? But if I choose to deal with it myself, am I liable to get arrested for not telling the Police? It's a lose-lose situation.

Finally, Ayloush puts his finger on a question we should all be asking:
"Are we genuinely monitoring would-be terrorists to protect the public, or are we in the business of creating terrorists so we can justify use of the funds appropriated to fight domestic terrorism?"
Too right. Nobody likes to spend money on a solution, only to find the problem has gone away, and politicians even less so. But this just leads to that vicious circle - we create terrorists because we're looking for them, we find them, so we look more. (Also ignoring the economic benefits of creating a war, of course.) Every time we see a house get raided and a couple of Arab guys carted away, every time we think "Tut. But he was such a nice boy." That's when we're vindicating our own sense of fear.

See also: Channel 4 distorts mosque.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Better to go topless?

Warning for T-Shirt slogan:
The slogan on the garment read: "Don't piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies".

Peterborough City Council said using insulting or offensive language was an offence, even if it appeared in print.
Faint reminiscence of a guy being stopped in Brighton for an anti-Blair/Bush t-shirt. Maybe this shows that being anti-anti-terrorism is, in fact, just a way of pissing off the cretins who came up with the ideas to go to war, lock everyone up, etc etc in the first place, so in fact there's no real difference between "causing offence" and "criticising policy". (In fact, Brighton hates crude t-shirts these days.)

Which all gives me a whole bunch of fun clothing ideas. Just don't print any t-shirts having a go at them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Question: What is British?

In a short interview with ePolitix, home secretary Jacqui Smith claims that "Terrorists are ... about attacking the values that we share in Britain, and the life that we share in Britain".

Now I'm confused. I've heard this before, and I was confused then. So here's an open question to any readers of this blog - what are the values that we share in Britain? And I don't mean the ideals that get spouted at us according to who's listening, such as "tolerance" and "a stiff upper lip". I mean the values I can go into town and find today. Which of my values are under attack?

Update: On further introspection, "tea" can probably be considered a good British value. We must defend our tea from terrorists.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Definition of a Terrorist

"Terrorists can come from any background and live anywhere. They are as likely to be seen in quiet suburban roads as they are in inner-city areas.

"Terrorists do not respect the laws of physics. Terrorists enjoy watching the Tellytubbies while sober. They do not look any different to you, or to me. They are capable of producing music so beautiful that you will kill yourself after listening to it. Terrorists often have a scowl or a forced smile on their face. Terrorism does not understand the Disney way of life. Terrorists buy sudoku magazines to make themselves look clever. They take no sugar in their tea as they are 'sweet enough already'.

"You will only be able to know that someone is a terrorist by the time you are dead. Terrorists are anybody not going out of their way to be unsuspicious. They do not know where the nearest Argos is. They are in credit. They can beat you at table football any time they like, but often choose not to."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Steal our DNA, Steal our Dignity

Word on the street is that the Home Office may extend DNA sample gathering to scrape the biofluff off them very same streets, and probably for just whatever you could be caught doing. Littering? Biomap please. Speeding? Yup. Drunk and disorderly? Bam. Looking a bit suspicious? Snip. Hanging around in a group (that's "waiting with a mate" to you)? Spooned. Note the Guardian article also refers to suspects in such offences, so flump knows how I can be sampled if I'm suspected of littering, or looking weird.

Yeah sure the "Human Genetics Commission" are launching a "public enquiry". But seriously, so what? The usual people will complain about it, the Police will say it's necessary, the report will say there's a fine line to be balanced, and the DNA database will grow ever larger and ever more "useful". The debate about what it really means to have your DNA on file will be left behind, stuck in the dust like a sweating, dying pig.

With the current state of trust in police+science, the onus is unfortunately on dissenters to raise the critical eyebrow. The big question, if things are going to change (insert hopefulness here), is now: Why should we not just keep everyone's DNA in the database?

To answer my own strawquestion (although please, argue with me), this comes back to a bigger question: who has responsibility for the actions of individuals? The same question pops up under Richard's discussion of anti-obesity pills, and the same answer applies to both, I think. What we lose by using technology to fix all our "problems" is a fundamental assumption of individual responsibility.

There's no point in me making a decision to do something, if I have no responsibility over it in the first place. Either I do it and I get caught, or I don't do it and I don't get caught.

At this point, many people will be thinking "good, that's the way it should be - criminals get caught, innocents go free". But this ignores 2 things:

1. I didn't specify that the decision was over an intentionally-criminal act. There are many acts that are illegal, but that people think shouldn't be, and there are many acts that people don't even suspect are illegal, or are too confused to know. (Copying music you own to an ipod [currently illegal] and growing hallucinogenic mushrooms [legal til recently] are a couple of examples.)

2. More importantly, responsibility is not just something that stops us from doing illegal things. Responsibility is about accountability, and about directly tying yourself to the good and bad results of your actions. Responsibility is an innately human thing - we try to predict the future, we make our choice, and by adopting responsibility, we pay more attention to the punishments and rewards as a result, helping us to learn faster. Responsibility isn't just a legal/illegal thing - in fact, legality is constructed around actions, not vice versa. Reponsibility is an ethical/unethical thing, a help/harm thing, a maturity/immaturity thing. Remove responsibility, and you end up with what Huxley predicted: a nation of childishness and immaturity, a nation in need of a Nanny State, because all the adults packed up and put nappies on.

If we can get some of this message into the debate, maybe it has a chance of being interesting, of having an effect.

[Addendum: It's interesting to note the newspaper page numbers for this issue too, as found in the ePolitix bulletin:

Guardian - page 6 | Telegraph - page 2 | Times - page 5 | Independent - page 10 | Mail - front page | Sun - page 12 | Express - page 6

Only the Telegraph places it anywhere near the front, and the Indie - normally a banner-waver for sheet-selling rights issues - is practically in the bin. More proof that we just don't want to face up to responsibility?]

[Addendum the 2: Robin Wilson notes that who gets their DNA taken is entirely subjective, of course.]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

From "war" to "battle", but still the same deal?

Emerging from its chrysalis-like cocoon state of raw energy and manliness, the visceral phase "war on terror" is mutating into something else. The BBC reports that Brown talks of terror 'struggle' in an interview on NBC, but there's no way a struggle gets the patriotic heart pumping like a good old war. Struggle is part of War, not the other way around, and while a Struggle can be a defining period, something to suffer, it just doesn't have the same active ingredient that War has. In Struggle, you persevere. In War, you overcome.

The BBC article also links to an old piece on the declining use of the 'war' phrase, from back in April. Hilary Benn posited that this was mostly to avoid feeding the fire, but it's down to Sir Ken MacDonald to realise that the language of war involves a sacrifice of values, and an embracing of fear.

So what's replacing the 'war' then? Well, Brown calls it a 'struggle' - at least on US TV - but not just any old struggle. It is, no less, a struggle for the soul of the 21st century. Yes, that's right. Whoever wins this battle (not a war, you see?) wins the entirety of he 21st century. Which is odd, really. Is Brown laying a claim to owning the 21st century? One might say that the "soul" of the 60s was free love and such, but in doing so one would implicitly accept a very Western - or even just American, or parts thereof - view of the 60s. Was there a soul of the 20th century? Perhaps industrial capitalism? cientific progress? Institutional control? All of these are still merely the outcome of the 20th century in a way - a historic perspective shoe-horned into a nostalgic re-definition of where we've just been. In many ways, the "soul" of the 20th century could easily be classed as nothing but very real, very gritty global war.

By attaching the idea of a "battle" to the next 100 years, Brown is doing something very odd. 100 years isn't a battle, it's most definitely a war, as we've seen before. A battle is a moment, a clash, an instant of violence that arises from other factors simmering up and meeting in conflict. A battle lasts a few days at most (else it turns into a siege, which is a different game altogether). By calling such a prolonged fight a 'battle', is attention being swiftly diverted from the longevity of these actions? Are phrases such as "long war", "cold war" and now even "war" so bad for the "reality" bubble that voting citizens are kept in that we have to re-define other words to take on what we really mean? Can we really be fooled into thinking that 50 years is no more a 'struggle' than 50 hours?

Or perhaps I'm just reading too much into an American TV interview and a rapidly-concocted piece of rhetoric. Still, with the 'war' on terror apparently deprecated over here - at least in linguistic terms - it's worth keeping an eye on what language takes its place. Rest assured, it'll contain some mix of expecting to fight, and expecting to fight for a long time. Language is Power.