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CEAC - 2 May 2012

(I'll try to use the term CEAC in the future for posts like this; "Current Events And Commentary")

Two interesting posts from the EFF, on one of which I take the EFF's side, and on the other I am opposed:

  • The EFF asks the FCC to forbid the government from intentionally disrupting wireless service. You may recall that last year, BART disabled cellphone access in an attempt to stifle protest in its stations. I approve of the EFF's stance here. Regardless of the type of protest, whether of groups I approve of, oppose (like the Tea Party), or think merit some interference (such as the KKK), I don't think broadly interrupting the mechanisms of interpersonal communication like this should be permitted. I am not a free speech absolutist, nor a near-absolutist as per American political tradition or law, but the number of circumstances where I think these disruptions are acceptable are still fairly limited, and that shutdown went far beyond my comfort limits.
  • The EFF recently published a paper criticising some steps taken by law enforcement in investigating the recent bomb threats at UPitt; the FBI found that anonymous remailers were being used to send the threats, and seized the server. Here, I think law enforcement got the balance right; the EFF has, IMO, been broadly irresponsible in its blanket support for anonymous communications channels, and its blame-shifting (in terms of complaining about the investigation disrupting legitimate traffic) is rubbish. The EFF's suggestions that investigations simply stop when a (theoretically anonymous) anonymity-shield be found establishes a firm bar against investigation of crime, and thus a paved-path for would-be criminals to do parts of their deeds. There are reasons to be wary of state power, but being more wary of criminal power is sensible; if it would require introducing liability for people who run such anonymisers for criminal acts that are done through them, let that happen. We should not permit new technologies to be the end of law because of a new technolibertarianism.

Some commentary on other things:

  • This coming weekend, France is set to hold presidential elections, and most polls suggest that Nicolas Sarkozy (current President, a centre-right leader) is set to lose to François Hollande (French Socialist Party). This, among other things, has shown a weakening of the French centre, with far-right and left politics making large gains; Sarkozy has been flirting (not literally, haha) with Marine Le Pen (of the right-wing National Front), asking for an endorsement (which he failed to get). Marine is not as extreme as her father was, but the need to ask and the failure to get the endorsement is humiliating for Sarkozy. Leftists should not misinterpret this (likely) victory; it may be clear that the multiculturalist worldview in the middle of French politics has lost, but even in victory there will be a struggle with the nationalists over what used to be the centre (which is not dead, just taken down a notch). I wish Hollande well; I had hoped to see (his ex-wife) Ségolène Royal win the last elections, but squabbling within the party prevented them from having a serious chance. The biggest shocker in his platform is likely to be his push for more rights for minority languages in France; that's long been an area where French policy has been unusual for Europe.
  • That election has seen an overdue frank discussion on multiculturalism in Europe; Claude Gueant, Sarkozy's Interior Minister, commented that not all civilisations are of equal value, which I heartily agree with. This valuation is, of course, perspective-laden, but that is nothing to be ashamed of; the content of his judgement is, as by his quote in the linked article, based on the French motto; liberte, egality, and fraternity, and he would judge civilisations poorly that are tyrannical, that treat women badly, or that institutionalise social/ethnic hatred. There is no shame in working for bettering society, or thinking less of societies that do less well along these lines. If we are, say, to work for women's rights, we do well to judge well those societies that embrace them rather than those that abuse them. We don't need to use the philosophically dishonest American discourse of "universal values" to do this; we should be mature enough to accept our values and judgements as bare facts about us and how we do business. Despite my admiration for the opened door, like with Pim Fortuyn's statements they come from the mouth of someone I would prefer not to see in power, but it is healthy to criticise multiculteralist flavours of liberalism (and other related obscuring and stifling factors, like the postmodernists and the politically correct) in public in order to contest their control of the mantle of liberalism.
  • Efforts towards a solid system of jurisprudence in Afghanistan continue, despite the uncertain future governance of the country.

And some commentary on some recent articles/blogentries that caught my eye:

  • Disturbing speculation from Elvin Lim on how the public perceives Obama. It's plausible, and would be another sign of the city-country divide and perhaps how racism is embedded in American society; someone like Obama would not be unimaginable on my mother's side of the family (I have some black cousins on that side, and I hope they have great opportunities in life and make the most of them), but some people from other parts of the family would probably find someone like him, having lived reasonable bits of his life in areas distant from the heartland or out of the country, with clear ties to people other nations, deeply suspicious. I have a fairly loose notion of what it means to be an American (and to me the term is mostly descriptive, not prescriptive), and his diversity would, were I to know him personally, just make him seem a likely-interesting person to me. I think I can understand the other side there though, as much as I am bothered by it; the cosmopolitan post-nationalist identity I have is one I hope eventually makes its way outside city intellectuals. I'm also a realist enough to know that I don't need to approve of every bits of someone's identity or all the categories I might put them in to like them. Cookie-cutter friends, where we'd be cut from the same tin, might work for me but it's not generally been what I've looked for (outside certain reasonable limits) in either friends or political leaders.
  • CodingHorror had a non-coding-related post about radical honesty and its faults; I don't know if I agree with his final conclusion, but his deliberations on the topic resemble my own, and it's an interesting read.
  • An article in The Atlantic seems to be enthusiastic about something I'm wary of; the decentralisation of expertise. I'm further bothered by the author's language of "lashed inextricably to the commodities of privilege and power" in her enthusiasm for changing the definition, but it's an interesting read. I am generally enthusiastic about the ability of academia to cleave what people want to be true from what's presumably actually true; dulling that potential is not something I'm likely to accept.