Quicklinks: Borders, dolphins and spying

Garry Davis, a man who renounced his American citizenship and declared himself a citizen of the world died on the 24th of July. His “citizen of the world” idea is quite appealing and it’s interesting how it hasn’t caught on. I see little value in patriotism and it’s hard not to draw comparisons between passports and the pass laws of Apartheid South Africa. The pass laws were based on race but if they were instead based on where one was born, how would they really differ? I think any differences must be minor.

There is a post on WEIT dealing with India’s ban on captive dolphins and public opinion of the issue in Spain and Italy. I also saw a story where an American aquarium was recently denied permission to import Beluga dolphins. Related to both incidents, new research shows that dolphin memories can last at least 20 years! (covered in ScienceNow and Nature News)

Lastly, Edward Snowden has been granted one year’s asylum in Russia. This is excellent news for him considering Bradley Manning is facing up to 90 years in jail. Hopefully these cases, particularly Snowden’s, will send a message that large-scale monitoring and cover-ups of military actions are not acceptable. In the time, here are a number of ways to minimise data surveillance and generally increase your online security.

Quicklinks: Dissapointing world

Sometimes I just find the world incredibly disappointing. A Norwegian woman went to the police in Dubai to report being raped and instead found herself arrested for extramarital sex! She was later pardoned by the Sheik but the very fact that that can even happen is ridiculous. It’s not the 17th century but you could be forgiven for thinking so.

Then I hear the UK wants internet service providers to block porn by default. Naturally this is “for the children.” Of course I highly doubt there’s any evidence that it will improve children’s lives or that he’s taken into account the uncertainty that lurks in these situations. There better be very strong evidence to enact such a thing because the government has no business telling people what they can and can’t look at. This system should be opt-in only, unless maybe in the UK every single household and person has kids.

As if privacy weren’t muddied enough it seems retailers think it’s good to stomp all over it so they can track people and recognise celebrities. No. You shouldn’t be tracking people. Their defence is that it’s the same as what’s done on-line. That may be but that doesn’t mean it’s right. In this case they’re just copying a bad example.

This last one is not as bad as the others but a difference in what I think we are meant to achieve through justice system. Nazi hunters are putting up posters looking for information to convict those involved in the holocaust. The problem is that was 70 years ago and the people involved even older. Of course if your idea of justice is just to punish people then it makes sense to convict them. A more constructive form of justice would seek to rehabilitate and prevent recurrence of past events. The chances these people are going to repeat their crimes is infinitesimal so convicting them will serve no purpose.

Worthwhile reading

I was updating my blogroll with new links when I realised that I had never actually made a post about them in the first place. You can see them along the side of this blog and it’s a collection of some of the sites that I follow. I’ve excluded news sites so these are usually blogs of individuals or small groups.

3 Quarks Daily
This is the closes to a news site of all of them but it’s not news. It shares a wide variety of posts from all over the internet, including some original pieces, covering science, art, philosophy and politics. chances are there will always be some content of interest here. Continue reading

Why South Africa is failing

It should be fairly obvious to any educated person but South Africa is failing because there is a complete absence of leadership. One might even go so far as to say the leadership that there is is actually detrimental to the country. I’d like to take this opportunity to vent my frustrations about the sheer idiocy I encounter every time I read the news.

At the start of the year we had an unemployment rate of 25% (Closer to 37% if you include the people who have given up looking) and we currently have more people on welfare than paying taxes! Ninety people are employed for every 100 on social welfare. This situation cannot go on for ever. Continue reading

Balancing privacy and security

DNA as seen during gel electrophoresis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

South Africa has a serious problem with crime and DNA profiling offers a real chance to do something about it by providing accurate and reliable evidence. There is currently a push to bring in a legal framework to deal with this issue and, as I’ve stated previously, I support the DNA Bill and signed the petition. However, it’s important not to lose sight that these advances come at a trade-off between security and privacy. The DNA Project itself has noted opinions on both side of the spectrum; from a piece from the US that suggests a mandatory DNA database would be ideal to a comment from someone who refused to sign the petition because arrestees are innocent until proven guilty. I think the South African DNA Bill has done a good job of trying to balance privacy and security but I do want to warn against the dangers of sacrificing privacy for security. Continue reading

Petition for the DNA Bill in South Africa

We have a serious problem with crime in South Africa but there is currently an opportunity to do something about it, or at least put much-needed framework in place. The DNA Project has been pushing for parliament to pass the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill B2-2009 or DNA Bill. Although DNA profiling was first used in 1986, South Africa has no legislation regulating DNA evidence. The DNA Bill seeks to address the issue by creating legislation focussed on biological evidence, particularly DNA, establishing a national DNA database and putting in place the necessary policies and oversight of such a database. Continue reading

Quicklinks: Animal intelligence, abuse and some cool posts

To keep to on a topic I’ve put a bit of effort into documenting I have a short press release about a metacognition in chimps.

This pattern of behavior reflects a controlled information-seeking capacity that serves to support intelligent responding, and it strongly suggests that our closest living relative has metacognitive abilities closely related to those of humans.

This is also important when considering the next two links, about bills in the US designed to prevent documenting of animal abuse. There is an attempt to disrupt animal rights activists by making it a crime to infiltrate farming facilities and record abuse of animals. This isn’t about them doing anything disruptive, merely to stop them building a case and reporting abuse to authorities. This deliberately prevents people from knowing what is going on in the industry and there are fears similar laws could spread around the world.

Then to buoy your spirit you can see these two cool stories. One about bees moving each other with electrical fields (and there’s a link to more about bees and electricity inside) and one about the historical value of island weapons. If you don’t want the history then let me say it’s also a chance to see swords made from shark teeth!

Was Varsity Newspaper’s article racist?

UCT's dating poll (source: News24)

UCT’s dating poll (source: News24)

It seems a graph in UCT’s student newspaper, Varsity Newspaper, has caused quite a bit of a stir after publishing a pie chart with the title, “UCT votes on most attractive race.” (Story on News24 and iol.)

With South Africa’s extreme sensitivity to racial issues it didn’t take long for people to start denouncing the paper. According to News24:

Some Twitter users, including human rights activist Zackie Achmat, voiced their disapproval. @ZackieAchmat referred to the chart as “racist nonsense”. Another user, @ednake89 tweeted “this is the kind of bullshit UCT’s Varsity newspaper publishes”.

Continue reading