Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


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“The Robin Hood of science”

In the ever-deepening shadow of the national surveillance state, a bright gem of a story.

Alexandra Elbakyan’s ingenious online resource Sci-Hub has broken the corporate stranglehold on worldwide access to science research.

Sci-Hub

Science writer Simon Oxenham reveals why and how this brilliant young neurotechnology researcher in Kazakhstan did it. Details here, on Big Think.

It’s an inspiring account of knowledge gathered, privatized – imprisoned, really, to exploit for profit – and now, thanks to Alexandra Elbakyan, set free.

A fragment: “Only days after the [New York District] court injunction blocked Sci-Hub’s old domain, Sci-Hub was back online at a new domain accessible worldwide. Since then, the website has been upgraded from a barebones site that existed entirely in Russian to a polished English version proudly boasting a library of 48 million [research] papers, complete with a manifesto in opposition to copyright law. The bird is out of its cage.”

In part 2, here, Simon Oxenham pays tribute to pioneering internet creator and activist Aaron Swartz, who was ultimately hounded to death in 2013 by the US government.

Fortunately, at least for now, Alexandra Elbakyan and Sci-Hub remain beyond its imperial reach.

To encounter other scientists who defy the status quo, check out Bold Scientists: dispatches from the battle for honest science. Read excerpts here.


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Greece: It was a moment

Shining moments happen now and then. While the big ones demand attention, small ones often escape notice.  Some are in the eye of the beholder.

Lightning over parthenonThe Parthenon, Athens, Greece

For this beholder, a few of the big shining moments that come to mind: When years of massive popular uprising finally brought down the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. When Iceland defied the European bankers. When indigenous Bolivians forced US corporate giant Bechtel to drop its plan to make them pay for their own water, even for rain that fell from the Andean sky.  And then, just a week ago:

Despite a deluge of propaganda and threats, 61%of Greeks said Όχι, No! to financial-political strangulation by Euro-banks, Greek corporate gangsters and their wholly owned media.

That was a shining moment. It followed the January 2015 election of the Syriza movement to govern Greece, primarily on a promise to end imposed ‘austerity,’ a toxic mix of impoverishment and grand theft that had already devastated the country.

I am hungry for these shining moments, as I imagine many of us are. The big ones don’t come very often.  Our grasping at straws can make us naive, trip us up on our own illusions.

A week later, the Όχι moment is over.

Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras overrode democracy and the clear wishes of his own people to accept, behind closed doors, a set of conditions guaranteed to be even more viciously destructive to his country than the ones a strong majority of Greeks had just refused in their historic referendum.

In their castles today, the international bankers and politicians who serve them are surely celebrating. They have made an example of the Greek people, as kings used to do with heads on pikes: See what we do to those who defy us.

How Greeks who invested their hopes in the new government and its promises feel today, I can hardly imagine. The grief and rage of two other observers is eloquently expressed here, and here.

And in a rapidly growing international protest on Twitter, #ThisIsACoup, here.

But the story doesn’t end there. It continues where it always does, in Greece and everywhere else, often out of sight on streets, in markets, cafés and tavernas, in offices, schools and barracks.  People talk, they learn, they unravel the lies, patch the disappointments, share, organize, resist.  And so it goes.

The story also continues in the turmoil and the quiet of our minds, where many small shining moments are born.  Often they grow, and sometimes they bear fruit.


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Went to a protest today

Against what: A new federal bill, C-51, which smooths the road toward a police state in Canada. The bill is currently winding its way through Parliament.

C 51 protest

Photo: Canadian Press

After protests across the country and from many sources, the ruling Conservative regime has made a show of amending the bill.  Like paint slapped on a rotting house, the proposed changes will have minimal impact on the bill’s nightmarish potential.

So, today’s protest.

Where: At the Belleville constituency office of Daryl Kramp, the local Member of Parliament. He’s a Conservative, ie a Northern Republican, and he’s chairing the committee currently sliding the bill through Parliament. Kramp was absent from the Belleville office today, being rather busy in Ottawa.

Who: 40 – 50 people from the area who are alarmed enough by what they’ve learned about this bill to protest it in public. The rally was called on short notice, in response to the proposed ‘amendments.’

After a few decades protesting a panorama of injustices, bigotry, stupidity, greed, crimes against the earth, abuse of power, state terror and such, at today’s protest I experienced a familiar mix of reactions:

I believe it’s crucial to be here, to inform the powerful that some of us see through their lies, and care enough to resist their schemes to the extent that we can. On the other hand, knowing how power is constructed, I suspect our resistance is too little, too late. On the other hand, it’s crucial that we be here. On the other hand…

This mix, and the gradual shedding of illusions over years, eventually led me to stop going to protests like this one.  But then I was grateful that some people took the trouble to organize it, and that other people bothered to show up on a bright spring afternoon in the middle of a week. But then I know well enough that the real decisions are made far from here, in cabinet rooms and board rooms, by sociopaths in suits, over lunch.

Even so, how can I justify staying home in my comfortable, safe little cave, pretending that I accomplish anything that matters simply by writing?  And who knows what effect each of these acts of resistance might have?  The arrogant managers would have us believe they are oblivious to our protests, and nothing we do will make any difference.  But when they lie about practically everything else, why not about this, too?  Wouldn’t things be that much worse if we left them to their own devices?

It’s a dilemma.

What do you think?

 

 


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Bold Scientists in Winnipeg

Wednesday, March 25

1:30 pm.  Michael Riordon at the University of Winnipeg.  Room 5L25, Department of Geography, Lockhart Hall.  Map.

7:30 pm.  Michael Riordon at the McNally-Robinson bookstore, Grant Park, 1120 Grant Avenue.  In the Travel alcove.  Map.

Unspun science for dangerous times.

BTL BS poster, U of Winnipeg, March 2015


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‘A historic victory’: The internet is ours

“We did it! The FCC just voted to stop the slow lane!”

Internet slowdown protest

This is good news. It’s amazing news.

“The stakes couldn’t have been higher. With so many websites based in the US, the future of the entire Internet hung in the balance.”

A year ago, the open internet looked doomed. The huge bully corporations that monopolize cable and wireless provision announce plans for a two-speed internet: fast for those who could pay, slow – very slow – for the rest of us.

The Federal Communications Commission, responsible for overseeing such things, is not noted for favouring public over corporate interests. Its current chair, Tom Wheeler, is a venture capitalist and former head lobbyist for both the cable and wireless industries, which worked hard behind closed doors and spent lavishly to ensure their stranglehold on the internet.

Erupting in May 2014, a small resistance grew quickly into a multi-faceted, finely coordinated international public campaign, eventually engaging more than 5 million people in protecting our internet. It worked.

On February 26 the FCC commissioners voted 3 – 2 (close, but good enough) to keep the internet open. The details are here (same story, two variations):

Outraged, the bully corps leapt immediately to sue the government, and right-wingers in the US Congress obediently set about sabotaging the historic ruling. Of course.

But still, for now, we can celebrate. This is a rare victory for open communication, equity and freedom of speech.

In Canada, OpenMedia.ca led the campaign, one of many on their docket. This small but formidable grassroots organization is independent, creative and vital.

For more on what’s at stake, check out Bold Scientists, chapter 6, The Cloud.

(Image: popsugar.com)


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Oh Canada, glorious and free*

(* from Canada’s national anthem.  No irony intended, I assume).

Just revealed by The Intercept: Canada Casts Global Surveillance Dragnet Over File Downloads

This marks a new low in Canada’s data hoovering as a junior partner in the US-run War on Terror TM.

Maple leaf, dead

More detail here, at CBC News.

According to OpenMedia.ca, “The data they’re collecting can identify everything from your sexual orientation, religious and political beliefs, to your medical history. This sensitive information is being shared with the spy agencies of several other countries, without our knowledge or consent.”

If you oppose secretive, ever-expanding, high-cost, out-of-control spying on all of us, say so now.

This week, the Harper regime introduced dangerous new anti-terrorism legislation that will give spy agencies even more powers.

Michael Vonn, Policy Director, BC Civil Liberties Association: “Canada has utterly failed to respond to the urgent need for national security oversight and instead, proposes an unprecedented expansion of powers that will harm innocent Canadians and not increase our public safety.”

Tell the Harper regime: Cease and desist, back off, quit spying on us.

For more on the steady advance of the national security state in Canada, see Bold Scientists. Scroll down to chapter 6, The cloud.

For further details and resources, check out Transparent Lives: Surveillance in Canada.

(Photo: http://www.pxleyes.com)

 

 


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Bold Scientists, the trailer, now on YouTube.

“Tremendously hopeful and profoundly disturbing.”

Great minds don’t think alike. They think differently.  Here.

Bold Scientists trailer, screen shot