Not a Nice Day

After reading the developing story on the Nice car attack this early evening,  my heart sank another notch. This attack is a reminder that the global economic woes brought on by the Brexit pale in comparison to the sudden snuffing out of life along a parade route meant to celebrate liberty, fraternity,  and equality. The dichotomy between the two themes is stark: terrorism versus democracy.

At the tone of writing this blog,  the death toll is 80 people; it was 60 when I first heard of the attack. These attacks,  and the accompanying statistics, are starting to make our safe Western nooks sound like the sickeningly prosaic reality of a Middle Eastern or African country. Do the citizens of Lebanon or Kenya see the blip of our tragedies as another day in the West brought to them by their local newscast that they can then forget by the time the sports news comes on?

I am disheartened by the ease at which this attack took place: the use of a lorry to plow through a crowd. I am greatly concerned that other lone wolves (whom I think perpetrated this attack) will follow suit in other countries. Can you imagine if it had been a semi?

I take heart that a few heroic souls attempted to stop the truck. Heroes always surface at the zero hour,  as the proverbial goes down. Other stories will surface to help us see the good of people versus the evil of one individual.

I’m just sorry that it took 80+ people to die before the attacker was killed.

Corporate Policing of the Public Body

Obama and Apple February 24, 2016A thought has been fomenting about my mind the past few weeks since the FBI had a court order to force Apple to create a backdoor to the encryption on San Bernardino terror attacker, Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. Between Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s open letter to Apple customers, presenting the view why Apple should not break its own encryption software, and the contrary perspective from the likes of Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes, detailing why Apple has no business refusing the request.

Both perspectives resonated with me.

I laud Apple’s stance at upholding the right of individual’s to keep the content of their phones private. Mind you, lord only  knows that is one of the few things kept private anymore; data, by and large, is freely shared with nary a thought to the potential consequences of what might happen to that data. Whether it is companies like FitBit collecting biometrics, or Facebook creating a very intimate and personal snapshot (and more) of each of its users, personal, sensitive information flows more fluidly than the annual Nile flood. The internet of things aside, it is still the prerogative of each individual of how much, or how little, information about themselves is shared publicly or with corporations.

Similarly, the ability to lock one’s phone (or computing device) is, and should always remain, the choice of the individual. That privacy is very important to many people (just as many people don’t care…anecdotally, most people I know choose not to lock their phones).

I recall a case a few years ago here in BC, whereby the police had tried to force an alleged suspect to unlock the suspect’s phone, believing there to be incriminating evidence on the phone. I don’t recall the specifics of the case anymore, but the long and short of it was that the judge ruled that if the phone was locked, the police could not request anyone to unlock that phone without a warrant, as that was the same premise as entering a home to search it without a warrant (pun not intended). Conversely, had the phone been unlocked, then there was no reasonable expectation of privacy and the phone could have been searched by police lawfully. I bear this in mind, and, being more of the privacy-mindset, lock my phone all the time as a matter of habit, as such.

Apple policeYet, there is the very real expectation that all corporations should participate in self-policing for the public good. We demand that the internet giants – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc… – police their pages and delete accounts where terrorism, racism, bullying, and any like criminal behaviours, take place.

Twitter announced the closure of over 125,000 terrorist-related accounts last month; Facebook has ramped up its anti-terrorism activities by actively combing for terrorism-related profiles and deleting them. This sort of activity comes on the heels of pleas from the likes of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, requesting that the Twitters and Facebooks of the world “to accept they have a social responsibility to help fight terrorism by allowing Britain’s intelligence agencies access to the data and content of online communications between terror suspects.” (from the Guardian)facebook police

I see this as essentially giving these internet and hardware companies mixed messaging that we need to protect consumer privacy yet demand that these companies police that privacy on everyone’s behalf. The problem with both is that not a single one of these companies is regulated and they are only held to whatever the moral and ethical compass that their CEO brings to the organization. We have faith that the Tim Cooks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world will always do right by their clients (and remember, we are only their clients….nothing more, nothing less).

There is something inherently problematic with giving that much social, nay, governmental, responsibility to private, for-profit, companies. I don’t know that there is necessarily a better model of corporate governance for things such as social media and smart phones at the moment, but we should be very careful of relying on any organization that is responsible only to itself and its shareholders.

Punchline of a Bad Joke: Then Shia turns to him and says, “So Sunni”

Sunni versus Shia cartoonRemember the one about the rabbi and priest walking down a street? Well, those days are over. Move over Judaism versus Christianity, we’re getting into Shia (Shiite) versus Sunni territory now. The unfortunate thing is that the jokes haven’t been crafted yet, only the sad punchlines.

Courtesy of International Business TimesThe latest, Saudi Arabia’s (Sunni) execution of a Saudi Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, on January 3, has lead to the condemnation of the execution by Iran (Shia), the subsequent storming and pillaging of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the retaliatory suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran, by the Saudis.

Yemen Sunni Saudi versus Iran Shia proxy conflictThis ungraceful dance is being played out in various Islamic national theatres: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, how could I forget, in Saudi Arabia. It’s the Coke versus Pepsi rivalry with very serious human consequences.

All the prophesying pundits have cast the bones and come up with various predictions for 2016. Not one includes some sort of resolution, let alone peace, in the Mediterranean theatre. And let’s not fool ourselves any longer: it’s no longer a Middle Eastern regional issue but something that is, albeit, an unpleasant and unpolitically-correct truth to swallow, a religious issue.

I know, I know, most Muslims are not supportive of quashing down their brethren who might view Islam through a different lens, and I know that most targets of all these various violent actions are Muslims themselves. The fact that Muslims are targeting Muslims, whether through rhetoric or through a loaded gun, shows that we really have to start using a religious-cultural lens through which to view what’s happening around the Mediterranean basin.

Back to the Saudis and the Iranians. Given that so many of the issues of 2015 – the migrant/refugee crisis, increasing jihadism, the virulent rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Turkey versus Russia leg cocking, terrorist attacks in various countries around the world etc… – stem from the Syrian conflict, perhaps it’s time we not worry about getting the Syrian government and rebel groups to the negotiating table, but start higher up the pecking order, and work on getting the Iranians and Saudis to the table. Perhaps then some sort of resolution might trickle top down.

In the meantime, I’m going to start working on jokes.

Taking the ‘-stan’ out of ‘Albertastan’

“It was like a morgue,” MacKay said of the atmosphere at caucus. “Someone said it was like, ‘It’s Albertastan now.”

Above is the quote that Canada’s Justice Minister, Peter MacKay, said, earlier this week. He was commenting on the success of the NDP (New Democratic Party) in Alberta’s provincial election.

Alberta is Canada’s Texas: oil and steers, and throw in a good measure of wheat to boot. Alberta is hot in the summer, and frigid in the winter. The provincial breed are a hardy bunch, as such, and very friendly and hospitable. The only bull crap that Albertan take is the kind used to grow vegetables. And, for the past forty-four years, the province has been decidedly conservative.

The Progressive Conservatives have, however, stepped in a deep pile of manure, and the NDP’s success is a measure of just how deep that pile of PC dung was. Between misspending, arrogance, and the proverbial flipping of the bird to Albertans, the very people who loyally voted in the Conservatives, year after year, the Conservatives were served a healthy slab of humble pie and sent packing with their tails between their legs: they aren’t even the official opposition.

This defeat is akin to that of the federal Liberals in 2011, and equally surprising.

My brother called this morning, ranting about the indignity of MacKay’s comment, in which MacKay insulted Alberta by calling the province “Albertastan.” My brother was virtually livid that the federal Justice Minister had the nerve to insult the people of Alberta in this way, that the comment was an affront to the democratic process, and how could MacKay have called the people of Alberta, ‘terrorists’.

Albertastan, Peter MacKay

Being an occasional fact-checker, I looked up the quote to see the extent of MacKay’s insult.

Firstly,  just as it is my brother’s democratic right to feel insulted (albeit incorrectly) about MacKay’s comment, it still is MacKay’s democratic right to make the comment. You might not agree with someone’s perspective and, unless they are actively propagating hate, that person has the right to free speech (see my two bits on free speech here).

Secondly, MacKay did not call Alberta, “Albertastan.” As the quote at the top notes, MacKay had said that someone in the federal Conservative caucus had referred to Alberta as “Albertastan.” Certainly making a comment of this nature to a journalist is on the ignorant side, as such comments should be kept in the privacy of the caucus and amongst friends (unless you are former Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, in which case, even your friends will tape your conversations, apparently). This comment, made by some anonymous member of the caucus, was second-sourced by MacKay.

The reason why should not make these kinds of comments in public is for the very reason that these kinds of comments are so easily misconstrued and taken out of context. The social media crowd latched on to this comments, whipped it up through the Twitter feeds, and came out with the conclusion that MacKay was calling all Albertans ‘terrorists.” This misconception is where context comes in.

Stans at a glanceAdding ‘-stan’ to a proper noun, typically means that the proper noun (place, typically) is a poor, Communist backwater. This context obviously stems from the Cold War, during which many of the countries ending in ‘-stan’ were (pseudo-) countries under Soviet rule and were (and still are) incredibly poor: think Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan (have most people even heard of these places?) etc…And, of course, amongst others, Afghanistan.

How is Afghanistan currently perceived? Most people today associate Afghanistan with terrorism. Many people even conflate the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban, and ISIS/ISIL in Syria/Iraq. It’s all kind of the same place and angry people, after all.

As such, the context of what a ‘-stan’ is, has changed. For a particular demographic, the socially media-savvy demographic, and I am referring to the under-40’s, the Generation X and younger, a ‘-stan’ has a terrorism context, because of Afghanistan, not a Cold War context any longer. Many people wise in the ways of social media weren’t even born to know what the Cold War was, except perhaps as a war between GE and LG for a corner of the refrigerator market, or Bud versus Coors spat for which brew was better on a hot summer’s day (for an interesting slice of demographics, scroll down to the Twitter stats on the Pew Research Center’s website).

MacKay’s context, I would hazard a guess, was of the Cold War variety, not of the terrorist variety.

The NDP are a left-leaning, socialist political party, which many (older) people equate to communism, perhaps as a leftover from the McCarthy era in the 1950’s when all things socialist were viewed with deep suspicion. I will also reiterate here that MacKay did not call Alberta ‘Albertastan’ but was echoing something that someone else had said.

However, the Twitter crowd has now jumped on the bandwagon of distributing misinformation (in the form of the misquote) and have taken that poorly chosen word, “Albertastan,” out of context, or, rather, shown that ‘-stan’ now has a new context. Also, given that the under-40 demographic has a hate-on for the federal Conservatives, and that the under-40’s are the dominant users of social media, it’s no wonder that this gaffe has people (the under-40’s, like my brother) frothing at the moment, misinformation and all.

Ultimately, the error is MacKay’s in that he should be more careful of what he publicly says, and definitely more social media savvy. I don’t believe for a minute that he was accusing Albertans of being terrorists.

Equating the quote to terrorism smacks of a new variation of Godwin’s Law (the moment someone brings up Hitler and/or the Nazis, then an argument is made moot). I think we’re headed in the same direction with terrorism: the moment someone starts to grotesquely hyperbolize and make unfounded parallels to terrorism, their argument is moot, which is exactly the point at where this social media maelstrom about Albertastan is.