Monthly Archives: July 2005

Photographs of London and Birmingham

Sorry to bang on about this but how come BBC Birmingham editors were able to find over 80 camphone pics of the tornado good enough for use on the web site in 24 hours and Helen Boaden’s crack team in London found only 16 (of ‘thousands‘ apparently submitted) from the 7/7 bombings in three weeks? Where are all those other photos? Isn’t there some historic value in them? Shouldn’t they be archived somewhere?

Broadband viewing habits

Space Shuttle Discovery from the International Space Station, 28 July 2005
Trying not to gender-type my kids, tonight we watched the following videos on the Powerbook at bedtime (when we really should have been reading The Twits): Avril Lavigne’s Sk8er Boy and Losing Grip; NASA’s amazing, speeded-up video of Discovery spinning in orbit to provide astronauts aboard the space station with a good view of its heat-shield and an exciting video of the launch from a chase plane; the remarkable Birmingham tornado camphone footage from BBC Birmingham’s site.

The tornado material is bizarre and scary and the NASA site produces genuine excitement – the long, dramatic videos are amazing (I guess they should be) but what is it, exactly, that stops Avril Lavigne‘s record label from providing something that might actually entertain my utterly smitten (5 year-old) daughter on their web site? All the videos are truncated to less than a minute and postage stamp-sized (even in best quality)… and don’t get me started on navigation.

The photo gallery is pathetic and there is nothing else to look at (unless you pay an unmentionably large sum of money for ‘membership’ of this travesty of a web site – I wonder how many members they have). When you’re a little girl and you type Avril Lavigne into Google, don’t you have a right to expect something from the official site? How stupid is it to throw away your top fans’ enthusiasm in return for… well… what exactly?

It’s a Digital Rights Barbershop Quartet

Yes, they look like a barbershop quartet. But they're not. Francis Irving, Tom Steinberg, Simon Willison & Danny O'Brien inventing the British EFF Danny O’Brien thinks we might need a ‘digital rights’ organisation here in Britain. Something like the American EFF. He’s put his money where his mouth is and started a pledge that requires 1,000 signups by Xmas (and is about halfway there). I don’t disagree. Liberty, as hazily defined by Britain’s unwritten, common-law masterpiece of a constitution genuinely needs defending – here, now, in the time of bits – against a host of enemies, knowing and unknowing. The trouble is it’s a strange beast and it’s only nominally a constitution. In Danny’s terrific, noisy and productive session at Open Tech 2005 Saturday, Cory Doctorow – a representative, apparently, from another planet (a planet where geeks are actually quite trendy and where they have a constitution) – fell on the European Court of Human Rights, with visible relief, as a sort of Euro-Supreme Court, a court of final recourse in which troubled Euro-techies might conduct ‘impact litigation’ of the kind the EFF specialises in. Of course, he is wrong. An ancient and awkward nation like Britain is unlikely to ever provide a platform for the kind of expensive, showbiz litigation that produces new law in the US. The British EFF will need to be a very different creature and will need to be wired into our ‘Constitution. Nein Danke’ culture properly. Of course, I’d like to see the organisation that could actually do productive defensive work for liberty in digital Britain. I think a nicely-designed digital campaigning group could make a big difference and I admire Danny and his friends for getting the project going. Liberty wasn’t invented in Britain but its critical, open-minded, rational variant was. It’s only right that Britain should produce a new kind of digital campaign group. I’m looking forward to it. The picture shows Danny (on the right), actually creating the ‘British EFF’ pledge in real time straight after his session. How cool is that? Update: Danny wrote about it in The Guardian” title=”The right to digital freedom, The Guardian, 28 July 2005″ and I haven’t been able to figure out why this picture of Danny has been viewed over 600 times.



John Risby has brought to my attention his clever new service Stampster, which allows you to do… well… the kind of thing I’ve just done to my picture at the top of the page and here in this entry (you can also send them to your mobile phone, of course, which is where I guess they’re going to make their money). I think all that heavy copyright stuff and the big ‘preview’ watermark might cool people’s interest in the idea a bit, though. A bolder, more open approach to promoting this idea might do the trick, I think.

Causality and Morality

I must be getting old. Don’t try telling me the London bombings were ’caused’ by the Iraq war or Blair’s entrainment with the neo-cons or the lies about WMD or whatever. Those arguments – nicely wrapped in condemnation for the bombings themselves, of course – leave me cold. They’re morally void. And an abuse of causality.

In fact, causality seems to be the problem here. The apologists (what else can I call them?) have an etiolated, mechanical concept of causality. A produces B (produces C). Blair’s support for Bush produces disaffection in young Muslims (produces suicide bombings in London). As I said: morally void – and often accompanied by a sort of shrug: ‘what did you expect? Of course they bombed London. Blair invaded Iraq’. In this way, the apologists deny the entire Islamic world moral agency, robbing Muslims of their human obligation to act well: ‘how can you expect Muslims to behave morally? Blair invaded Iraq.’

The other side – the Government Ministers and their fellow travellers on the opposition benches – has an equally shaky idea of causality. Politics obliges them to cancel it all together in fact: ‘I see no connection between the London bombs and British conduct in Iraq. 9/11 happened before the Iraq war. So did The USS Cole and the first WTC bombing. Those young men would have bombed London anyway.’ The absurdity of this position is breathtaking.

Blair’s wisdom here, though, is that he has no choice. The tiniest acknowledgement that he and his allies may have contributed to the change of climate that produced the bombings would be politically fatal. So, fact is denied. Reality distorted. Logic inverted.

The truth, as usual, lies elsewhere.

This is how they make business myths in America

If I remember the sequence correctly, plucky little Pipex (Britain’s first proper, commercial ISP) was bought by UUNet (America’s first proper, commercial ISP). UUNet was subsequently bought by MCI (America’s Maverick number 3 post-break-up telco), scouting round for an entry to the strange, new world of unmetered bits, which was subsequently bought by Worldcom (America’s most dynamic, most Wild West telco) in a classical boom-era, equity-driven acquisition. This is how we, here in the British telecoms backwater, got a bit part in the amazing story of Bernie Ebbers, Worldcom’s bouncer-turned-gutsy-entrepreneur-turned-desperate-fraud. Wow.

The lost leading the lost

London bombing suspects enter a tube station - CCTV image from & July 2005
The young men who attacked London last week are pitiable – profoundly lost to humanity. Theirs isn’t a religion, nor a cause. It’s a sacrifice cult, a bloody creed designed to glorify not God but a millionaire demagogue called Osama Bin Laden and a bankrupt, history-less ideology from the fringes of world culture. Five hundred years ago, the sophisticated and decadent Aztecs killed children to appease Gods they feared. The sad gang that killed 55 people in London nine days ago has as much in common with the complicated, enlightened tradition that produces big, resilient cities like London as those Aztec priests.

It’s a vicious ideology and it’s sustained by violence and by the pitiless conversion of its own adherents into dumb weapons. The logic of a fighting force dependent on the deliberate death of its soldiers for its success is so perfectly inverted as to defy rational thought. Suicidal Terror’s only possible victory lies in the pointless self-murder of its last happy martyr. Only then will it be possible for those who lead these young men and women to their deaths – convince them of their destiny – to calculate the magnitude of their victory. The question is: what will they do if they conclude that they didn’t win yet? That they need more martyrs?