Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 6th, 2010

Why do news agencies repeatedly report the various condemnations of leaked information being publish, without challenging it? As I understand it, the documents released are done in partnership with the news agencies themselves – and if there were any blame, they are at least as responsible as wikileaks and Julian Assange! The news agencies should stand up to this indirect criticism, which is effectively governments criticising the freedom of the press. The press tacitly acknowledges it things the information is in the public interest; otherwise they wouldn’t have published it. Perhaps this defence has already begun as the International Federation of Journalists has issued a statement condemning the backlash against wikileaks.

I found Hillary Clinton’s condemnation of the leaks is very ironic. She is responsible for that information. If that information leaks, lives would be put “at risk”, at least according to her. So that information should be carefully controlled. This information was not sufficiently protected – as shown by the recent leak. She is therefore negligent. Governments should learn that electronic records held in a database are at risk of abuse and unauthorised access. They should be distributed and properly secured – the weakest link is the human – particularly if there is no one who “watches the watcher”. Or as wikileaks puts it:

Big brother is watching. So are we.

I am apparently in a minority that agrees with wikileak’s stance – freedom of information is more important than saving embarrassment of politicians and civil servants. Accurate information is essential in a healthy democracy – voters need information to be informed. If politicians don’t like this, “if its too hot, get out of the kitchen”. Unfortunately, governments are generally interested in releasing information that fits their agenda. The “dodgy dossier” springs to mind. Freedom of information is too important to be left to the politicians. Admittedly, diplomacy has historically involved keeping secrets. Tradition is not, in inself, a reason for secrecy. A possible compromise between the need to protect negotations while satisfying the need for transparency: a 12 month limit on secrecy of documents would enable people, who would often still be in office, to be held accountable. Government practices, including mass surveillance, secrecy, large central databases and assuming new powers are all typical methods for centralising power. We need to challenge the assumption that centralising power and control is always a good thing.

Anti Citizen One

PS is their current IP
PPS The previous batch of leaks was similarly claimed to put lives at risk, but more recently, no evidence has been found of that was available that lives were lost.

PPPPS. Julian Assange has been arrested. I regard this as pressure applied to individuals that undermine state power. Hopefully he doesn’t end up like David Kelly. As JMS wrote:

Your credibility has become a threat to their credibility.

Universities and Employment

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 4th, 2010

The UK university teaching funding by taxation was cut by 80%. This effectively shifts the burden of paying for undergraduate university tuition to the students. The living cost of university is already paid for by students – or if my limited experience is anything to go by – their parents. The funding changes will massively increase the burden on students and their parents. I am perhaps an idealist; I think that learning for it’s own sake is worth pursuing for its own sake. Of course, it has the secondary benefit of being economically wise to have an educated work force. Funding for access to learning is repellent. UK social mobility has been reducing and I would not be surprised if university fees are a regressive policy.

This is compounded by many graduates struggling to find an appropriate job, based on their training and aspirations. OK, yes most get a job – but most jobs don’t really require a degree. What is the point in training superfluous graduates? The oversupply has increased competition so one almost needs a law degree to get a job in a cafe (being a job not really requiring a degree). This is a waste of resources and an absurdity. Students are being charged for something that society doesn’t need.

Several ideas come to mind:

  • More jobs should be created that require a degree level of training.
  • Universities stay funded by taxation and abolish student fees.
  • Limit places on courses where jobs don’t exist. This includes most of the “soft” degree subjects.
  • Reduce the university places by 80%, in line with the funding cut. This option is strangely tempting.

The lib dems agonising over their commitment to abolish student fees, only to now increase fees is poetically tragic (but not the outcome I would have preferred). The target to have 50% of students go to university seems unnecessary to me. I love learning, but I doubt that 50% of students want to get a degree just for fun! Even economically, it doesn’t make sense apart from the lack of jobs. So basically employment is messed up, therefore universities are messed up.

Having students end university in massive debt is not a good place to be. Of course they will gradually pay it back, but our society already relies too much on debt. As the vastness of the debts increase, people are reduced to economic slavery and, if we lose confidence they will pay up, we have financial crises. That’s what seems to have caused the recent recession: too much debt.

I also think we might abandon our fractional-reserve banking. It’s only of the few things the abrahamic religions got right. Usury is – or was – a sin. It’s yet another ethical choice that is not closely examined by religious believers (at least in my very limited experience).

Anti Citizen One

PS I have been watching “Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders”, and I note there are at least two reforming trends he highlights: the rise of meritocracy over hereditary aristocracy, and improvements in conditions of the working class. This ideas are often distinct.
PPS The “Ancient Worlds” documentary is also good. I really dig the most recent programme that pointed out civilisations created by armies (e.g. Alexander the Great) actually achieved very little impact on history and people’s lives, but ideas created and dispersed can change EVERYTHING.

There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come. Hugo

The greatest events – are not our noisiest, but our stillest hours. Not around the inventors of new noise, but around the inventors of new values, doth the world revolve; inaudibly it revolveth. Nietzsche