De omnibus dubitandum
22 Oct 2012
It’s no secret that I’m a fierce defender of free speech, and that I resist any and all attempts at censorship.
Criticism in all its guises is, I believe, an absolutely vital aspect of a progressive modern society. And in a society that jails people for what they say, free speech is a particularly fragile right.
Fortunately this is not a fight waged by a small minority. In fact, free speech in the UK is a grave concern for many of us. Activists have started the Reform Section 5 campaign which presses for reform of section 5 of the Public Order Act.
This reform is highly necessary, because section 5 allows police to arrest people for “insulting words or behaviour”.
The fact that insults are punishable by law is laughably ridiculous and no country professing to be free should even remotely consider such a farcical law. But nonetheless there it is, in the UK law books. Which is why this law desperately needs to be changed.
Rowan Atkinson puts it rather well in this speech:
Free speech includes the freedom to insult. No one has the right to never be offended.
10 Aug 2010
You’d think that after 2009’s blockbuster no sane producer would dare tackle the Sherlock Holmes mythology for the foreseeable future. After all, any attempt at re-imagining Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous ‘consulting detective’ would inevitably be compared to Ritchie’s film, and the final result would have to be damn fine indeed if it was to survive that comparison favourably.
Yet the 3-part TV series recently aired on the BBC seems to have managed exactly that. Or, actually, it’s so bloody good and ingenious that no one even bothers to compare it to the Downey Jr film. The TV series, you see, is an entirely different animal.
The producers of the series have moved the setting to modern times, and have cleverly adapted the Holmes mythology to fit nearly flawlessly in this 21st century background.
They’ve also managed to cast spectacularly good actors in the roles of Holmes and Watson (and, as one producer remarked, have succeeded to cast an actor in the role of Holmes with a name even sillier than that of the detective himself).
What they haven’t managed is to conceal the fact that they’re the same people behind the current Dr Who. Some of that series’ flaws emerge in Sherlock as well, such as the amazing coincidences that move the plot along, and the protagonist’s apparent omniscience.
Also depending on your taste the character of Moriarty, when he finally makes his appearance, is either utterly brilliant or campishly disastrous. (I’m squarely in the former camp, by the way – I thought he was superb.)
I always thought Sherlock Holmes was a bit of a silly character. A Victorian age superhero of sorts, his observational deductionism as unlikely as Superman’s x-ray eyes.
But despite all this, I thoroughly enjoyed the re-imagined Sherlock series. With three 90-minute episodes ending on a cliffhanger, I sincerely hope there’s more to come.
If you live in the UK you can watch the series on BBC’s iPlayer. If you don’t, I’m sure your torrent/newsgroup site of choice will be of help.
24 Jun 2010
Since I moved to Northern Ireland I’ve tried to make this wee country my new home. I’ve gotten to know many new people, I’ve read up on local politics and culture, and have tried to understand the country’s national identity.
The latter, however, is something I’ve failed horribly at. Not only that, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with what seems to be an utterly schizophrenic sense of nationality that reigns not only within Northern Ireland, but the UK as a whole.
First some basic background on which is which, as many people outside of the UK get confused (actually, a lot of people inside the UK get confused too):
The UK refers to the “Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. Great Britain, in turn, is divided in to three countries: England, Wales, and Scotland. You can read a great illustrated explanation of the whole structure here: the difference between the UK and Great Britain.
Adding to this, different names are applied to different collections of the 4 countries that make up the UK. There’s a superb diagram on Wikipedia that tries to explain the whole complicated nomenclature in one glance: British Isles terminology.
Then, when it comes to sports, things start to get ugly. In football, all four countries of the UK have a separate national team: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In rugby, however, there is no Northern Irish team – instead they play as part of the Ireland national rugby team.
In the Olympics, there is a ‘Team GB’, which if the name was accurate would mean it includes only athletes from England, Scotland, and Wales. But, wait a minute, there are Northern Irish athletes in Team GB as well, so it should actually be called Team UK.
It gets worse when you look at national anthems. When Wales and Scotland compete in a sport, their own national anthems are played. When England competes, however, it’s not the English national anthem that gets played but the anthem for the whole of the UK (“God Save The Queen”). Apparently England has no anthem of its own, so it opts to use the UK’s anthem. But this doesn’t always sit well with the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish, as England doesn’t represent the whole of the UK so it shouldn’t necessarily be allowed to use the UK anthem.
The Northern Irish situation regarding national anthems isn’t straightforward either. In rugby for example, depending on where the match is being played you’re likely to hear at least two different national anthems for the Ireland team. And in football Northern Ireland often uses the UK’s national anthem, except in the Commonwealth Games, where Northern Ireland uses a different anthem (“Londonderry Air”).
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales each have different bones to pick with the English when it comes to the appropriation of the UK’s national identity – each country, to varying extents, wishing to be seen as separate but also as part of a greater whole. Referring to the UK as ‘England’, that consistent error foreigners make (myself included before I moved), doesn’t help.
The somewhat nauseating focus of British politics and media on England tends to make matters worse. It often seems as if the English have forgotten that the UK is more than just England, something which is an endless source of ire for the Scottish, Welsh, and (Northern) Irish.
So I’ve decided to give up on the whole national identity thing. There are limits to what I’m willing to endure for the sake of integration. I’ve come to realise that it’s much easier for all involved if I’ll just stay totally and irrevocably Dutch. I may even enhance my Dutch accent.
Zo dere joo haf it. Ai em a dutsjman in nortern airlant.
18 Mar 2010
Best article I’ve read all week. I’d say more about it but yesterday was St Patrick’s Day and I haven’t recovered yet. Read it for yourself:
“Instead of reading an entire news article, watching an entire television show or listening to an entire speech, growing numbers of people are happy to jump to the summary, the video clip, the sound bite — never mind if context and nuance are lost in the process; never mind if it’s our emotions, more than our sense of reason, that are engaged; never mind if statements haven’t been properly vetted and sourced.”
26 May 2009
Kevin Kelly, renowned observer of cyberculture, has written an intriguing essay for Wired on socialism in the online sphere:
“Bill Gates once derided open source advocates with the worst epithet a capitalist can muster. These folks, he said, were a “new modern-day sort of communists,” a malevolent force bent on destroying the monopolistic incentive that helps support the American dream. Gates was wrong: Open source zealots are more likely to be libertarians than commie pinkos. Yet there is some truth to his allegation. The frantic global rush to connect everyone to everyone, all the time, is quietly giving rise to a revised version of socialism.”
Kelly seems to favour a sort of decentralized technologically-enabled socialism:
“Rather than viewing technological socialism as one side of a zero-sum trade-off between free-market individualism and centralized authority, it can be seen as a cultural OS that elevates both the individual and the group at once. The largely unarticulated but intuitively understood goal of communitarian technology is this: to maximize both individual autonomy and the power of people working together. Thus, digital socialism can be viewed as a third way that renders irrelevant the old debates.”
It’s a very interesting essay and worth reading for everyone who’s interested in politics, technology, and the massive influence of cultural forces on the internet on our daily lives.
19 Aug 2008
A while ago I read an article from Nicholas Carr titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid“, and I thought he brought up a good point.
And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
I too have been experiencing greater difficulty with concentrating for long stretches of time, and I’m more easily distracted. I now prefer my information in small bite-sized chunks, going for quick summaries instead of the full depth of the content.
Carr is a self-admitted worrywart, who joins a long line of historical worrywarts worrying that new technologies are making us stupid. In fact Carr does such a fine job of rounding up great examples of ancient worrywarts getting it all wrong, it’s hard to take his own worry seriously.
Kelly however fails to provide a solid counterargument against Carr’s case, save for pointing at previous technology’s critics and how wrong they all were. Not a very convincing argument.
As someone who’s made a career our of the things the Internet does, I should be exclaiming the online world’s manifold virtues and limitless possibilities. And often I do.
But I’m also worried about what the Internet is doing to us, both as individuals and as a society. It’s not all good, and I think we need to be honest about that. Regardless of how much we’d like to see the Internet as the solution to our global problems, we must face the fact that the online realm creates new problems of its own.
9 Jul 2008
Speaking of online marketers, another thing that both amuses and annoys me is the abundance of ‘web experts’ on social networks such as LinkedIn that claim Web 2.0 is just a hollow marketing phrase.
The irony of making this statement on a successful social networking site, one of the greatest examples of Web 2.0, is entirely lost on these people. Somehow they just don’t get it. They’re in the midst of this powerful movement, the socialization of the web, the progression from a broadcast structure to a conversation structure, and they’re utterly blind to it.
They’re surrounded by thousands of trees but they can’t see the forest.
Now I’m not a fan of hollow marketing phrases myself, and for a while I thought Web 2.0 fell into that category. But the socialization of the web is an unmistakable process, something that has most assuredly occurred and whose ramifications aren’t all understood yet. We call this socialization, this democratizing of the Internet, Web 2.0.
Web 2.0’s existence is evident all around us, both online and offline. Its exponents are integral to our experiences as modern human beings through social networks like MySpace and Facebook, through social media sites like Digg and Reddit, through user generated content on YouTube and Wikipedia, and in many more ways. It’s influencing not only our online lives but also how we work and play and consume offline.
This new Internet hasn’t replaced the original broadcast-type web, but has added to it and exists beside it and is, arguably, a much more potent force than Web 1.0.
And still there are so many people that, in the middle of this Web 2.0 experience, deny its very existence.