My Genes Made Me Do It

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 9th, 2009

Like something from a Dostoevsky novel, a man found to have a gene linked to aggression has used that fact to get a reduced sentence for murder. This of course is justified if the primary role of criminal justice is to punish the guilty, who make evil choices using free will. But how could we know if we have free will?

On the basis of the genetic tests, Judge Reinotti docked a further year off the defendant’s sentence, arguing that the defendant’s genes “would make him particularly aggressive in stressful situations”. Giving his verdict, Reinotti said he had found the MAOA evidence particularly compelling. Nature

AC1

Airport Security

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 8th, 2009

I have just been thinking about the claim “airport security stops terrorists”. If airport security is really effective and there are many terrorists, then I would expect they would be often caught at the security point or they would target other buildings. Since the number of positive detections at airport security is low (Richard Reid being a notable and singular exception? update: of course attempted his attack before appropriate checks where in place) and there are not routine bombings in western countries, I conclude that one of these axioms is false. It seems odd to claim that if terrorists can’t target aircraft, they just give up…

AC1

Harm of a DNA Database?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 18th, 2009

I was recently thinking of reasons for objecting to blanket collection of DNA beyond just violation of “natural” rights. But a second good reason has just arrived: the possibility of forging DNA samples from samples in the database. This is news to me!

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person. The Times

So being on a database makes it easier to be framed for crimes. Nice.

AC1

Irrelevant footnote: The national health service causes TERROR??? (source: fox news – yeah right…)

Pirate Party UK

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 13th, 2009

I am glad to see that a UK pirate party has been launched. Their core policies:

  • Reform copyright and patent law.
  • End excessive surveillance
  • Ensure freedom of speech and real freedom to enjoy and participate in shared culture.

Although I worry that their focus on one issue leaves their actions on all other issues rather ambiguous, I think their influence on the other parties will be beneficial. They will start adopting similar policies when threatened with losing support.

Their use of the word “pirate” is also interesting. The media corperations have attempted to portray people who do not respect copyright as pirates – being a BAD THING ™. To name your party as your old name of reproach and turn it into a label of honour is very interesting. Comparisons might be drawn with the label “gay” or even my sign off name “Anti Citizen One”.

I am very interested in copyright law and again will plug Lessig’s book Free Culture. In a few lines: creation of cultural works depends on reuse of existing culture and without some rights to reuse, culture is dead – at least for people who don’t have a deal with a large company with an extensive legal department to protect you.

Anti Citizen One

Before the Law

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 18th, 2009

A man from the country seeks the law and wishes to gain entry to the law through a doorway. The doorkeeper tells the man that he cannot go through at the present time. The man asks if he can ever go through, and the doorkeeper says that is possible. The man waits by the door for years, bribing the doorkeeper with everything he has. The doorkeeper accepts the bribes, but tells the man that he accepts them “so you won’t think you’ve neglected something.” The man waits at the door until he is about to die. Right before his death, he asks the doorkeeper why even though everyone seeks the law, no one else has come in all the years. The doorkeeper answers “No one else could gain admittance here, because this entrance was meant solely for you. I am now going to shut it.”

This is a condensed version of Kafka’s “Before the Law“, taken from Wikipedia.

The Idiot

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 17th, 2009

I have finished reading The Idiot by Dostoyevsky. It has very interesting characterisation but rather rambling in style. It is packed full of social commentary, moral questions and psychological analysis – often expressed in the story in “ravings” of one character or another. Among the themes are love for one woman, Nastasya Filipovna, by three very different men: Myshkin, who is a paragon of virtue and humility; Rogozhin, who is passionate but roguish and mercenary; and Ganya, being ambitious but always mediocre. The outcome is a tragedy – each character is torn apart by an aspect within themselves which is at odds with their circumstances. Myshkin, the protagonist, is almost Christ-like in his readiness to forgive and to love. His love for Nastasya Filipovna degenerates from selfless love to total pity with a self destructive intensity. (No wonder Nietzsche took such a liking to Dostoyevsky.)

Various proto-existential questions are raised – what are the values of a society? are people responsible for their actions or does their circumstances and environment undermine “free will”? The case of a man driven to cannibalism by near starvation is discussed.

This criminal ended at last by denouncing himself to the clergy, and giving himself up to justice. We cannot but ask, remembering the penal system of that day, and the tortures that awaited him […] There must have been something stronger than the stake or the fire, or even than the habits of twenty years! There must have been an idea more powerful than all the calamities and sorrows of this world, famine or torture, leprosy or plague–an idea which entered into the heart, directed and enlarged the springs of life, and made even that hell supportable to humanity! Show me a force, a power like that, in this our century of vices and railways!

This raises the possibility of a value system which overrules self preservation in this case. The speaker (Lebedeff) claims that the modern would has become devoid of strong convictions and therefore devalued. Another case is discussed concerning a murderer of 6 people and his unusual moral defence:

Well, not long since everyone was talking and reading about that terrible murder of six people on the part of a–young fellow, and of the extraordinary speech of the counsel for the defence, who observed that in the poverty-stricken condition of the criminal it must have come NATURALLY into his head to kill these six people.

If we admit we would have done the same in the murder’s position, we may be less inclined to condemn him. “Guilt” would no longer be free choice of evil over good, since there is no “free” choice. On the other hand, how can meaningfully discuss “If I were in another’s position” or “If another was in mine”? This might be comparing oranges and apples since there is no possibility of individuals swapping their circumstances. But that too would undermine a universal moral law.

In another place, a terminally ill man discusses what use to make of his last two weeks of life:

Who, in the name of what Law, would think of disputing my full personal right over the fortnight of life left to me?

Since he feels cannot do anything “significant” in the remaining time, the man feels he has no further obligation in his actions or even to carry on living. If this point is admitted, he argument might be extended to an entire life… hello existential crisis. No wonder Dostoyevsky is listed as a founding thinker of existentialism 🙂

Anti Citizen One

Defamation of Religion at the UN

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 29th, 2009

The UN recently passed another non-binding resolution on “combating defamation” of religion. A quick check sees there have been several previous resolutions with a similar intent. Most of the supporting states are Islamic and most of the opposing states are Western. The mind boggles. Many states enshire the right to profess a religion but only a handful ban criticism of religion. This sounds awfully like Islam does not tolerate criticism – no other religions are mentioned in the resolution. I know criticism and defamation can be distinct but who decides the division? In many theocracies or media hysteria tend to lean on the broader interpretation of what is defamation.

Of course the resolution is worded in terms of “promoting harmony” and preventing incitement to hatred. Most of the articles are fairly standard UN-ism about protecting individuals from discrimination. But you might note the title of the resolution is defamation of religion; not defamation of its followers. Eventually, the resolution gets to the point:

8. Deplores the use of the print, audio-visual and electronic media, including the Internet, and any other means to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination towards any religion, as well as targeting of religious symbols and venerated persons

Yes, it says that relgious ideas cannot be “targeted” – which I take to mean “criticised in any way”. Of course, you might call me paranoid but considering the states that have the death penalty for blasphemy, I’d say their idea of “targeted” is what is intended.

Anti Citizen One

PS It’s hard to think of any juicy insults for an entity I deem (provisionally) as non-existent.

PPS That last link was so relevant, I embed it below:

A Voice in the Civil Liberties Wilderness

Posted by Anti Citizen One on February 27th, 2009

The UK Liberal Democrats are proposing what I think is a dream legislation on civil liberties. I can’t help smiling when I read the list of measures. If we live in an open society, all these civil rights should be a matter of course.

In a more philosophical sense, these reforms can avoid the concept of “natural rights” by considering they are “rights of the state” over the individual that must be abolished.

* Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
* Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
* Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
* Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
* Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
* Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
* Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
* Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the Information Commissioner and reducing exemptions.
* Stop criminalising trespass.
* Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
* Prevent allegations of ‘bad character’ from being used in court.
* Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
* Prevent bailiffs from using force.
* Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
* Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
* Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
* Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
* Scrap the ministerial veto which allowed the Government to block the release of Cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
* Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
* Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras. Lib Dems

Basically a work of genius 🙂 But the existing powers that be are likely to resist this attempt to moderate their influence…

Anti Citizen One

Floods of News Items

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 14th, 2008

Several very interesting news items:

“A federal judge says the University of California can deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.” Interesting state and religion issue. SFGATE

UK Government proposes wide reaching surveillance powers to investigate … well anything. I expect we will soon be given a helpful reminder by an anonymous camera operator when I forget to turn the oven off. I am now thinking the balance of power to the government from the individual is getting extreme. Individual rights are fraying at the edges and are almost torn apart. PCPRO

China: where an application to hold a protest is met with arrest for “disturbing social order”. BBC

Interesting piece on atheism in the US – The Guardian

And a subscription only news item, the New Scientist had a issue exploring the boundaries of reason. I have not finished reading all of it yet!

AC1

Sensitive (aka Thought Crime) Information in Academia

Posted by Anti Citizen One on May 30th, 2008

Hicham Yezza, who was working as an administrator at the university [UCU], was arrested for printing out a copy of the widely available al-Qaida training manual for his friend, Rizwaan Sabir. He was re-arrested on immigration grounds after his release from custody and is due to be deported to Algeria on June 1. The Guardian

The Register reports his deportation has been “cancelled” but he remains in custody.

also in IT management and research:

New computer crime laws for the UK are currently being fine tuned before hopefully being passed in to law later this year. However, some of the measures intended to punish hackers harder than than they currently are could be used to criminalise people legally working in the IT industry. tech.blorge.com

There are software tools, such as nmap, that are useful for both securing a network and also for breaking into a network. Should be be made illegal? The current trend is to pass vague legislation with the verbal assurance that it will not be misused.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Even if we trust this government, who can say what the next government will do with laws that are so open to interpretation? And with ever lengthening power of arrest without charge? And total surveillance of phone and email messages? And (if the UK pilot is expanded) police wielding tasers?

“It makes people think, if I do this – which could be considered a perfectly legitimate act of research – will the same thing happen to me?” Martin Ralph, from Liverpool University

Anti Citizen One