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Turning silver into gold

The Gig Economy

We’re moving more and more into what’s called the “gig economy”, where instead of a single, full-time, lifetime-long job, people engage in multiple activities. It’s certainly what I have been doing for the last few years; consulting on open source, serving on the boards of a variety of civil society organisations, arranging and conducting study tours, writing for several publications, writing on my own sites, speaking at events and more. Few of those have been paid work. Continue reading

Winter Music

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If you’d like some music for the dark nights (& days) that’s not so “traditional”, try these albums:

More album recommendations welcome!

How To Safeguard Surveillance Laws

This letter was published in the London Evening Standard on January 12th, 2015:

I watch with alarm as, in the wake of the barbaric murders in France, politicians seek increased surveillance powers for the security services.

Surveillance is not always wrong; far from it, our democracy has long allowed accountable public servants to temporarily intrude on individuals they believe to be a threat.

My alarm arises for two reasons:

  • The powers requested in recent attempts at new law are open-ended and ill-defined. They lack meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability. They appear designed to permit the security services free rein in making their own rules and retrospectively justifying their actions.
  • The breadth of data gathered – far beyond the pursuit of individuals – creates a risk of future abuse, by both (inevitable) bad actors and people responding to future moral panic. Today’s justifications – where offered – make no accommodation for these risks.

Voters should listen respectfully but critically to the security services’ requests. Our representatives must ensure that each abridgement of our liberties is ring-fenced:

  • justified objectively using public data,
  • governed with impartial oversight, and
  • guarded by a sunset clause for both the powers and all their data by-products.

If the defence of free speech fatally abrades other liberties we are all diminished.

Yours faithfully

Simon Phipps

Careless Stereotyping

Ramadan LanternsI’ve been privileged to travel widely, and have had conversations with educated people in several countries where Islam is the norm. On one visit to the Levant, one of my acquaintances made statements starting “Christians should…”. I was taken aback. After all, what characteristic do all Christians have in common?

When you eliminate all the doctrines that are contested, balance for those who support right- and left-wing politics, allow for two millennia of schisms and state co-option and factor the micro-fragmentation of the protestant portion of Christendom, the only thing left in common is the syllable “Christ”. I realised the term was being used as shorthand for a stereotype, embracing everyone far away in the western world, summarising a set of sketchy facts mixed with biases and misunderstandings.

So when we in the west who are not adherents to Islam speak of “Muslims”, who are we talking about? We are doing the same thing my acquaintance in the Levant did; taking countless unfamiliar people who we consider “different” and tagging them with a word that doesn’t mean much to us but does allow the application of a stereotype.

More than that, it’s a bad stereotype. Just like calling everyone in the western world “Christian”, I have a problem with the attribution of any motive or collective responsibility to the 1.6 billion people who actually are Muslims, or of a unified strategy by the 49 countries where they are the majority, let alone to the others caught up in the stereotype’s dragnet (many of whom are in fact Christians, as well as other religions).

To say “Muslims should…” is to immediately use an impossible generalisation, to invoke a stereotype, to validate the rhetoric of discrimination and to indicate unfamiliarity with people who might fall into the classification (as well as to covertly engage in ignorant proselytism as some of the conversations I’ve followed this weekend illustrated).

How can discussion of a statement that starts something like “Muslims should…” by people who are not Muslims do anything other than harm? Given the number of people, of countries, who are tarred with that brush, certainly nothing actionable could arise from it. That’s why, when I hear people ascribing actions or motivations to “Muslims”, I now respond: “which Muslims, where, and how do you know?”

Responding to terrorism

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I am appalled and horrified by the wicked and murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Settling scores with violence is the recourse of ignorant, cowardly barbarians – lower than animals. I am heartbroken for every person affected.

This was without doubt intended as an act of terrorism. But I refuse to be terrorised and decline the opportunity to hate. What does that mean practically? Terrorism is like a pernicious auto-immune disease to which it is easy to succumb. It seeks to provoke us into destroying ourselves.

  • To respond with attempts to make society less open is to succumb.
  • To respond with advocacy for or against religion is to succumb.
  • To respond with hatred of anything except terrorism is to succumb.
  • To respond by advocating racism and disrespect for anyone is to succumb.
  • To blame the victims is to succumb.

We should respond to this act of hate, which is as indefensible to anyone who embraces one of the world’s religions as to those who reject them all, by ensuring we do not succumb to the self-destructive reactions perpetrators of terrorism want to provoke. The best response is to strengthen the open, fair and tolerant society that terrorism seeks to destroy.

[This formed the seed for my column in InfoWorld]

Elections In Middle Earth

The Middle Earth elections are over and there’s a new alliance of elves and men in control, but all I can find on local TV is news of Tom Bombadil crushing Bilbo in Hobbiton.

I’ve been watching the BBC, and every single item of reportage has used a local political lens. We have heard guesses about next year’s UK elections, chest-beating from leaders of local parties, cameos of local politics in other countries to show what’s happening here is just like what’s happening there. But there’s little mention and absolutely no analysis of the power shift in the actual “political parties” of the European Parliament (with names like EPP, ALDE and S&D) and no useful indication of the actual consequences to the UK of the decisions its people have taken.

This is no surprise; neither the campaigning political parties nor the pre-election media ever mentioned the real politics of the European parliament, so how could anyone vote about it? Instead, the whole election has been portrayed like a mock election at a school. All comment asks what this means for Hobbiton; no-one is asking who’s running Middle Earth.

My take from the European election results is the UK has voted to remove many of its experienced politicians from Brussels and to leave the EPP and S&D to run the show. By promoting UKIP, we now have eleven fewer elected representatives working on our behalf to improve the UK’s position as new policy evolves, and even if they did suddenly decide to represent us — instead of voting in favour of things like the ivory trade and against flood prevention “to make a point” — they have no parliamentary colleagues they are willing to work with among the other nationalist parties to produce change.

The same story in other countries means the intact set of experienced political operators is from Germany, and the dominant influence from the UK will come from Labour acting within the S&D party who came second in the election. The UK’s ability to influence has been dangerously harmed and the euro-sceptic influence has moved even further from the levers of control (the UK’s Conservatives had already quit EPP by forming a new minority party) leaving pro-europeans from EPP, ALDE, Greens and S&D in control.

Meanwhile, xenophobic parties from across Europe will be funded with millions of new euros as their no-show no-work MEPs collect default allowances and feed their party with money (assuming they don’t just keep it). There may be fewer jackboots and more smiling populists, but the mantle has been handed over.

Instead of explaining all this, the UK’s news media talk as if UKIP has “won the election”, talk about local politics elsewhere in Europe and give no indication of the actual balance of power in the European Parliament. This is the real political bias problem.

By treating the European elections in purely parochial frames, voters have been given no information about the true consequences of their votes and as a result have voted like it’s a national election. No-one is being told about the true power-brokers or the future of policy. Instead, the news media have betrayed their audience and created a situation where the UK’s influence in Europe — which will remain the market maker for our economy and jobs — is further diminished. I have complained to the BBC that their coverage has been parochial to the point of abuse; you could too…

Here are the actual results:

EU Election Results 2014

As of June 9, 2014

“Screw Good Practice, How Bad Can It BE?”

Prescient.

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