I arrived to the US last Monday and I am leaving again for London this afternoon, from Newark Airport. It’s been a good trip. I’ve visited DC, seen some friends, went to a conference (that was unfortunately suspended in the middle due to snow weather), enjoyed a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum and had fantastic food. Now, it is time for the second stage of my 4-week 4-country travelling period: Brussels. I’ll be there on March 3rd.
I’ve spent my day in a snowed NYC. Well, not really. I’ve spent my day in an auditorium in a university in NYC, while it was snowing quite heavily outside. I am attending the New School conference on Limiting Knowledge in a Democracy.
After spending a couple of days in DC, the Amtrak train brought to Penn Station on Wednesday afternoon to attend this conference. Today, the panels were particularly good. Tomorrow, it promises to be as good or even better.
On Saturday, I am attending another conference in Columbia University about policy-making in the digital era. In both conferences, Jonathan Zittrain speaks. It seems that there are only a couple of people that talk about these things in a country of 300 million people. Funny.
In a world where politicians and civil servants do nearly what they please with our money and resources, because we, the citizens, don’t have enough instruments to scrutinize what they are doing, the banks take advantage to reap the possible benefits. This is what happened in Greece and other European countries on the road to the Euro before 2001. And this is probably what continues to happen today.
The New York Times, still the best newspaper in the world IMHO, has a news article on how Goldman Sachs and other Wall St banks negotiated financial products with the Greek government, and possibly other European countries, which facilitated their hiding of high deficits to get onto the Euro. In return, they got the future proceeds of Greece’s airports and highways, among other things in a deal termed as a “garage sale”.
This is what happens when governments and public administrations do what their please without the proper scrutiny. In most of Europe, parliaments are not anymore, if they ever where, a place of accountability, but of consent and quarrelling. Today, it is up to the citizen to control that those who govern us and administer our resources and tax money do it properly. Every bit of control, even the minor one is useful by aggregation. For this we need new instruments and rules. Opening public data to all (e.g. data.gov and data.gov.uk) is a very good step in this direction.
Another genius strip from xkcd
At the request of the UK government, Facebook took down 30 pages linked to prison inmates who were, according to the authorities, behaving inappropriately on the site, including taunting victims’ family members. It took them 48 hours to do it.
In itself this fact is worrisome. At the request of a government Facebook decides, at its own judgment, to curtail the individual freedom of 30 people (for though they are in prison and they are crime offenders, they are still people), without the intervention of a judge to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights. It seems that victims, government and Facebook (!) are the new authorities with regards to online freedom.
But it gets worse, for these new authorities are taking their self-assigned responsibilities very seriously, according to their declarations reported on today’s International Herald Tribune (print-version).
Gary Trodwell of Families United, a group founded by relatives of young murder victims, said:
When someone is convicted of a crime he loses his civil liberty through sentencing…We say he should lose his cyberliberty as well.”
Will Mr. Trodwell run for Parliament to get that law passed?
Even worse, John Straw commenting on the excessive time that took Facebook to take off the pages (48 hours!), he said:
What we’ve got to do is set up a better system with Facebook so that if they get a notice from us that this site is improper the all tehy have to do is not make a judgment about it but press the delete button”
What about given the same powers to China or Iran, Mr. Straw?
Even, even worse, Facebook wants to become the online sheriff, or at least that’s what Sophie Silver, a Facebook spokeswoman, is implying when she affirms that:
Facebook is absolutely committed to keeping its sites safe and clean…[the web could] be a wild an unruly place. Facebook tries to put some rules and protocols on top of the unruly Web.”
Wow, good thing we have Facebook, don’t you think? Otherwise we’ll be all online raped and smuggled by the scary people populating the “wild and unruly” online world!
This morning I met Jon Worth for an always-inspiring conversation. We exchanged some ideas and tips. I told him about some projects I am working on in Barcelona and the more ambitious League of Informed Citizens, and he shared with me his immediate and long-term life projects. Very interesting.
Later, I went to the Regent Street Apple Store to return the 15 inch Macbook Pro I bought after my 2006 Macbook’s logic board melted, which I replaced with less difficulty and cheaper than I thought. Then, I went to John Lewis to buy two new beds for the London flat – I should have them next week, my back is looking forward to it.
Now, I am @ The Hub in King’s Cross. The video on c’llr 10 for TweetyHall is finished, and a bit later I am having a conversation about a tech & democracy in Catalunya with some people in Barcelona. It looks promising.
So much to do in London, so little time…
It is some time since last I went jogging. I need to find again my past routine when I went 4 times a week. When I run, I feel healthier and I want to keep that disposition when eating and doing other things. Action begets change. By doing something, our mind gets into a different context and changes the content of thoughts and wishes. When I run regularly, my mind feels healthier and wants to keep that going by eating light food.
I believe it happens in all what we do. For example, if we drive our cars to work, we’ll be different persons than if go walking or taking public transportation. We might become more environmentalists in other activities. Action begets change.
If I use open source software, I will think differently about my work, about what I am doing with it, but also about how I should treat information. My perspective will be more open towards liberating information and data, increasing the effect of my first belief that brought me to use open source software in the first place. Action begets change.
Just saw ‘A serious man‘, the last movie of the Coen brothers, and I loved it. They are back to Barton Fink, though even better. There is something of it that reminds me of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. It is this existentialist jewishness that we can also find in Franz Kafka, where the individual keeps banging his head against social norms and a system that doesn’t understand him, and he doesn’t understand, either. While he tries to adapt once and again. Genius.