Category Archives: News

One week on: Copenhagen

It has been a week since Copenhagen was caught by surprise at the appearance of a form of violent Islamism in its’ midst.  A young man, two weeks’ out of prison, opened fire on a cafe in Osterbro, before disappearing for a few hours to then unleash the same on the city’s main synagogue. Two people killed, a film maker in the cafe and a volunteer security guard outside the synagogue. Then, in the early hours of Sunday morning, Danish police shot dead a man who opened fire on them as they watched the suspect’s apartment in Norrebro, who was subsequently confirmed to be the culprit.

Credit to APA via Mashable.
Flowers outside Copenhagen’s main synagogue on Krystalgade.

The reaction, or rather non-reaction of the Danes over the past week has been interesting. Is it the Danish sense of “well let’s just get on with it” or is it a collective shock? There has been plenty of coverage of various kinds in the Danish news media, the general reflection on the security services and state apparatus that these events cause. But the everyday people? The customary spring tradition (“Fastelavn” – Shrovetide) that this year fell the day after the shooting still took place, with children dressed up and having fun with the “cat in a barrel”, the Danish version of a pinata, in supermarkets and hassling their parents with bundles of twigs. I have only heard one Dane make reference to the entire incident, and that was actually to demonstrate a not-so-fun move that kept appearing in the roda at a capoeira class. Silence is a reaction to a shocking situation. But we should not apply “Anglo” pathologies to a culture which might look similar but is genuinely very different.

The key to understanding this is that Danes themselves, are on the one hand more relaxed about negative events (the “let’s get on with it” attitude), and that they have been bracing themselves for this for about ten years. It was through a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, that frankly the bulk of the Western world found out about the prohibition of the representation of a particular gentleman for about a billion people around the world. Add to that a less-than-smooth integration process in Denmark for foreigners and they unfortunately considered that it was not if, but when.

All credit to Reuters.
Copenhagen Memorial held on Monday.

Nonetheless, the incident has raised interesting questions. The number of countries we can now tick off to have an incident, or more, surrounding this tension which has haunted this patch of the world for fifteen years or so, has had quite a few new members in the last year – Denmark, Australia and Canada. The events in France provoked horror and outrage in such measure it did make many of us finally have a serious consideration to ourselves the merits of free speech. But while in France, a clearly orchestrated plan with multiple assailants was executed, I submit that in Denmark, I disagree with Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s initial remark that this was a ‘cynical act of terror’. I think that rather, and not at all to diminish what happened, this was a single person’s act of desperation, exploited by some asshole in prison to bend it for his own ends.

 

The perpetrator was two weeks out of prison with a history of violence and gang association, a Danish citizen from a much maligned ethnic origin, growing up in a sketchy neighbourhood in a place that probably did not much appreciate his presence. He had a loving family, but clearly felt the weight of his Palestinian ancestry, if you read reports from various outlets from those who knew him. Bright guy who numbed his problems with hash, which is not really the marker of someone nailed into hardline Islam. Can someone with such a barrel-full of Freudian excuses have the genuine wherewithal to initiate a fully reasoned macropolitical act? Or is it more likely, that in this country, with that history, practically ensuring that his life was over, a far more cynical operator simply saw an opportunity in his prison cell and exploited it?

There is the terrorist you need to deal with, because that’s the guy who will make this happen again. In the mean time, the rest of us should follow the Danish example – on Monday at rallies in city centres across the country, Danes gathered to express their defiance at those who would try to intimidate them, but also to defend the minority communities at the centre of these events.

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Iraq suspends the licences 10 Satellite News Stations

Attention statisticians and undergraduates!

The BBC is reporting today that Iraq has suspended the broadcasting licences of 10 satellite news stations after a wave of sectarian violence swept (and is still sweeping) over the country. The sectarian lines in the greater part of Iraq are divided between Sunni and Shia muslims; Iraq has a Shia majority but while Saddam Hussein was in power, the Sunni majority were represented by his Ba’ath party and thus held all the power.

It would be interesting to see if this effective ban has an effect in reducing or increasing the violence across the country. In the BBC report the correspondent says that most of the stations are ‘Sunni-owned while Qatar-based al-Jazeera is perceived as more pro-Sunni in its Arabic-language reporting in Iraq.’

If the rates of violence reduce, what does this mean for societies around the world in times of crisis? 24-hour news is one of the defining characteristics of the 21st century, with effects that are as yet unclear – 24 hour news may or may not increase partisanship, paranoia, negative perceptions of the world, and lead to more unverified reporting, of the people who consume it in great numbers. But to what extent is this an effect of the actual phenomenon of 24 hour news, or is it simply a vector for manipulation that was more traditionally seen in the newspapers? I say this because one negative example of this culture that my mind leapt to was the United States, where you are either a Fox person or a CNN person with no apparent room for someone in between.

So in Iraq, they are suspending these 10 satellite news stations, but the report does not say if it is banning all satellite news stations. In any case, we can only wait and see what happens in Iraq for the period of the license suspension, which is not given in the report…

The Ain’t Broke Test

The ‘Ain’t Broke’ Test

More and more news in tech seems to be lacking in innovation, or even reasoning. As more and more headlines fail the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ test, does this signal the end of our tech bubble?

Earlier this evening (afternoon in the U.S. I imagine), it was announced that Apple are releasing a new device, the iPad Mini, just in time for Christmas. This is a device which will rival the Nexus, from Google, and the Kindle Fire (I’m still unsure about that name) from Amazon. It enters into a semi crowded field, in that if you have an iPhone, iPad and main apple computing device of some sort (desktop or laptop), why on earth you are going to need or want one of these is beyond me. It seems to be an exercise in conspicuous superfluousness, which is an idea that is occurring to me more and more frequently reading tech news these days. The ultimate question is, with technology seemingly tilting towards proliferation and away from innovation, is the tech bubble about to burst?

Austin Carr at Fast Company wrote a great article about the floundering of Hipstamatic, an app that initially tapped in to the ‘photo-oldify-share’ spiel that has made Instagram such a success, but lost out to the aforementioned app because, well, they seemed to have gotten lost with where to take the app further to distinguish it from it’s competitors. Similarly, there was news this week that Color, an app that does the same thing with video (which hasn’t been released yet) has been snapped up by Apple for a ludicrous amount. It seems to be a cutthroat time to be an app developer now; if you’ve got a good idea, prepare for a hostile takeover. Rumour has it Color was bought not because of the potential of the app as a sharing tool, to be bolted on to the next iPhone to emulate the success of Instagram, but for some patents that Color possessed. It seems a bit much to me to buy a hair salon because you intensely covet the shampoo (forgive the metaphor) but there’s something about this rumour which is leading me down the path of thinking this end is nigh.

We’ve had Le Credit Crunch in the financial markets and it looks like we are now heading towards Le IP Crunch in technology.

Mark Piesing in the Guardian reports on some electronics metamaterial business coming out the Oxford University’s ISIS unit, which, if implemented successfully, could radically improve the recyclability of electronic components. If you didn’t know, much of the worst waste produced around the world comes from the production and crappy disposal of electronic devices, so as well as being made by children without pay (yeah we have ‘internships’ over here too, Foxconn!) or in sweatshop conditions, you’re scumming up the Earth too – I’ll let your conscience sit on that for a mo. So, why don’t we have this innovation already?

Mark Stevens, one of the senior scientists connected to the project, mentions two companies in the report – Microsoft and Samsung. The former were directly approached regarding this technology to put it in their new tablet and didn’t bite. Samsung are mentioned indirectly as a company with the power to push this science experiment through the barriers and into consumer electronics. Unless Samsung have called Dr Stevens since, they don’t seem to be biting either. Innovations that are worth developing are being left out to dry by companies who don’t want to take a chance on them, while incremental developments (or stuff that’s fine as it is, like Instagram) or items with their IP already sorted (like Color) are having money thrown at them. Thus we return to the mini iPad, a good example of duplication, not innovation, on the part of technology. In Le Financial Crunch, business who need the money aren’t receiving it (in the UK anyway) while the banks are sitting on generally safe bets (themselves) and not taking a chance lending.

Is this an unfounded comparison or do you think there’s something to it?