Power and fear

Last week, journalist David Miranda was detained for nine hours under the Terrorism Act. In addition, some hard-drives were (pointlessly!) destroyed at The Guardian’s London offices. Both of these actions were spurred by the fact The Guardian and David Miranda were actively working to investigate and reveal the length to which the USA and UK governments are monitoring… everyone they can get data on.

All of this prompted my friend to ask on Twitter:

To which I responded:

Specifically I was referring to the Tor Project, but there are also other solutions. The article How to keep the NSA out of your computer discusses ‘mesh networks’, essentially an alternative to the internet. One of the most prominent of these is Hyperboria. Use Bitcoin for any financial transactions that you want to keep secret. You can use bitcoins for pretty much anything, including food in some cities.

Unfortunately, there is a ‘tech savvy users only’ gateway to this stuff – because the surveillance techniques are so heavily technical, the solutions are as well. The ‘easy’ internet, comprised of Amazon, Google, ISP’s… this stuff can be used by anyone, but is also monitored.

Josh responded to me:

Now this is a subject close to my heart, because someone I greatly love has been on the wrong side of an airport detention policy. Like many (completely harmless) people, this person was treated outrageously; lied to, kept in miserable conditions, denied food, denied telephone contact with the people worrying about them. They were detained for over 24 hours, and then denied entrance to the country and sent back on the next flight.

I, who had gone to the airport to meet and greet them, was also repeatedly lied to.

It was my first real experience with the power of the state government: and it made me realise that we enjoy our ‘human rights’ only with their permission. You can do everything right, fill out all the paperwork, break no rules, never claim welfare, pay taxes, vote for central parties, be white, middle class and not subscribe to ‘other’ religions – and still get fucked over. Should you do anything ‘wrong’, whether on purpose or by accident, I can only imagine how much worse it is.

And here we see despair and hopelessness. The apparatus of Government is insanely powerful. It manipulates the media, it controls the military, it works in partnership with the corporations that own so much of our lives. Meanwhile, ‘everyone else’ – without full access to the facts, and with many diverse lies that appeal to their emotional needs, and who also need to get on with the hard work of living a normal human life – is pretty much hopelessly unequipped to deal with the Government.

It is a David and Goliath set-up, except that David doesn’t even know what’s he’s fighting or why.

We are not powerless

This is a false set up. It is a popular one, and a beguiling one, but it is not true. The ‘Government’ may have power and wealth and military might, but it is also made up of people. Incompetent people! Read the stories of detainees and you swiftly realise that the airport security personnel are people, way out of their depth, dealing with situations in idiotic ways. Read the stories of big business owners and you quickly realise they are sociopathic, and just as likely to turn one each other. The Government loses briefcases full of important info, gets their secrets leaked by The Guardian, and destroys hard-drives – apparently unaware that data is rarely confined to a single, physical location. They are not some robot brain, committed to a single purpose.

We do make a difference

We may only have human rights with their permission, but they exist only with our collective permission. We do make a difference:

  • Slavery is now illegal in all nations (the last place, Mauritania, made it illegal in 2007)
  • There are now only two countries where women cannot vote: Vatican City and Saudia Arabia. Saudia Arabia plans to change this in 2015.
  • Global poverty is declining – and dire poverty could be eliminated in 20 years
  • Public health measures have brought global life expectancy up to about 67. This is of course unequal, but the level of inequality is dropping around the world. Medical advancements are making access to life saving devices cheap enough for all.
  • We have almost hit ‘peak population’ – since the beginning of time we have been shouting about the dangers of human overpopulation. Now it looks like in 2050 we will peak at around 10 billion, and then population will drop/hold steady. Providing secondary education to girls is the single most effective intervention to reduce population growth; and access to education is improving.
  • ‘Serious’ crime rates have been decreasing.

There are three serious problems that face us:

  1. Climate shift/environmental issues. Basically, we have fucked the planet. Any solutions will come from the the tech & science sector. As an issue, it will probably impact on everything from food prices to environmental refugees to large numbers of people killed in extreme weather incidents. There will be consequences (and already have been) – we’ve gone too far to prevent them – but we can mitigate the severity of those consequences and do our best to adapt and protect.
  2. Inequality. Whilst dire poverty is set to be eliminated, overall inequality is growing. The very rich are, well, getting richer. Oxfam are calling for a new goal;  end extreme wealth. An equal society is a happier, more productive, better educated, and more stable society.
  3. The repercussions of moving into a digital & global age. Every time in human history that there is a major upheaval the ramifications were massive and far-ranging. The fallout from the shift into a digital age is difficult to predict, but will definitely include issues about data protection, the right to privacy, and the difficulty of working, trading and governing in a global economy. Who pays tax and where? Which laws and cultural assumptions come out on top? Is access to internet a human right in the way that access to education is? Who stores the data? Who monitors the internet? What about hacking? What is money, once it’s been reduced to numbers in a computer program? How do we cope with possible pandemics which could easily spread globally in a few hours?

Here’s the thing: none of these problems are insurmountable. We’ve been saying it’s the end of the world almost since we had the capacity to project the future. But despair is not helpful. It is entirely possible that the rich could escape the ravages of climate shift, spying on us at will, whilst the poorer citizens of the world live and die horribly. But it is equally possible that rationality and compassion could win out, that we find a way to use our considerable ingenuity and problem solving skills to adapt to a changing climate whilst still equalising our lifestyles. That we can find a way to celebrate diversity and live together instead of clashing over political and ideological differences.

And if we don’t? Well, at least if we hope and work towards the best outcome we’ll be happier than if we just give up now.

 Make a difference

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

The only thing that we can do is make a difference on the micro level. We all have the ability to make a difference on a tiny scale, but those differences all add up to a whopping big change on a global scale. There are lots of ways you can help, and the best thing to do is pick the cause(s) you are most passionate about and do something relating to them.

  • Support a charity that does something you agree with. Run a fundraiser, donate, volunteer some time.
  • Look after your friends and loved ones.
  • Support local, environmentally sustainable farming methods.
  • Stop buying stuff you don’t need.
  • Pass on your skills (blog, teach, make a youtube video, share with your friends).
  • Do the research on internet memes. Don’t just share a picture because you agree with it, check the facts before you hit ‘share’. You are responsible for the spread of misinformation.
  • Go on protest marches.
  • Keep a (wild) garden. Grow veg. Give the veg to your local food bank.
  • Do your research on corporations. Whilst it is probably impossible to avoid buying from companies that have some unethical practices (particularly where IT, clothing, and food are concerned) you can kick up a stink about the worst excesses. Boycotts can work.
  • Dispose of your waste properly. Recycle or reuse it.
  • Stay informed. Use your vote.
  • Fight against welfare cuts; these are people who deserve to live, deserve to relax, deserve to have fun. Compassion is a wonderful thing.
  • Support a living wage.
  • Speak up against discrimination. Accept that you will discriminate. If someone tells you that you are discriminating, apologise and figure out why.
  • Keep an eye out for children. They need the support of everyone in a society, not just parents and teachers.
  • Do the right thing wherever possible.

Thirty before thirty

UPDATE: 16 July 2014. Well, that’s it. I’m 30! I managed to accomplish exactly 16 of my goals, with a couple just scraping in… I wrote five flash fictions instead of six. I’ve applied for my green card so that I can emigrate to the USA, but sadly the process takes almost a full year — so I would never have been able to make it! I visited all but one of my mid-distance friends (sorry Josh). Ah well…. next up is the forty before forty, and I’ve got an entire DECADE to manage those!

It’s my birthday! Yes, I am starting with that line in the very real hope that you will leave me virtual cake in my comment box.

This time last year I pushed The Rising Wind out into the world, and let it totter around unsteadily. I’ll be publishing the full year of sales next month (once Amazon publishes the totals for July) for anyone who is interested.

Today I turn twenty-nine

Twenty-nine is quite an important age. It’s the last year of your twenties; a decade that is normally a whirlwind of love, jobs, broken hearts, identity crises, and growing independence. It’s the decade you transition into full adulthood, and your obsession turns away from who am I? and into what is my place in the world?

I am quite looking forward to my thirties. But I think there’s also something to be said for having a last hurrah in our twenties. So I am stealing Miss Write’s thirty-before-thirty idea, and modifying it for my own use. I have one year to complete these thirty tasks – so just under one a week.

Thirty before thirty

  1. Visit a spa – okay, this is a strange one. I have always wanted a spa day, total luxury and self-indulgence, but always been held back by my fear of it being ‘too girly’. Well, time to kick that one out of the park – I’m spending my birthday money on a trip to my closest spa tomorrow! Completed 17th July 2013. It was amazing. I’m going again. 🙂
  2. Publish my second novel – I’ve been working on it for almost a year already. It’s time to get that baby edited up and published. I’m aiming for December 2013. Watch this space! UPDATE: Clearly this didn’t happen, but the second draft is complete, it needs another re-write and then a good editor. Maybe December 2014?
  3. Try five new recipes – I love cooking, but tend to go back to the same old rotation of staples. I want to mix it up a bit and experiment with some new ideas. Suggestions welcome 🙂
    • 1. Pork risotto. Made it up, but it turned out lovely.
    • 2. Fish pie. Based on this BBC recipe.
    • 3. Chicken enchiladas. God, I love Mexican food.
    • 4. Chicken (and parsnip) korma. Based on this recipe, but I switched out some of the chicken for parsnip, and served it with cauliflower rice.
    • 5. Frittata. An informal recipe based on (vegetarian) sausage, broccoli, paremsan, potato and egg.  Completed January 2014.
  4. Get two hair-cuts – I have this terrible tendency to get my hair cut maybe once every three years, and just let it grow and grow the rest of the time. I want to start looking a bit more ‘polished’ so this year I’m going to get at least two hair-cuts. UPDATE got my hair cut on 3 June 2014. UPDATE: I died my hair twice, once black and once dark cherry, so I’m calling this one ‘done’.!
  5. Get some professional photographs taken of me – For CV, book biography, the usual.
  6. Get my green belt – I go to karate once a week. Right now I have my orange belt, and I’m working toward my green. I’m a bit flakey, however. I need to step it up. Completed 26 October! Next I want to see if I can get my blue before July next year… might be pushing it though.
  7. Visit three nature reserves – I work for a local Wildlife Trust, and we have a bunch of beautiful nature reserves across the country. I’m really bad about getting out to the ones that I don’t have to visit for work. So I’m going to make an effort to visit three this year – and work doesn’t count.
  8. Go to a yoga class – I love yoga, but I don’t have time to go. Instead of making an unachievable goal of going every week, I just need to go to ONE class in the entire year.Birthday cake
  9. Make a cake – Ha! I love cooking but suck at baking (I can turn out some good cookies but that is about it). Going to have a shot at making a real cake. Completed 27 July 2013. Two layer blue & green sponge cake for Phillip’s birthday.
  10. Revamp my web-design website – I’m about halfway done with this, but need to finish it off
  11. Enter a short story competition – something I’ve wanted to do since I was about seven years old. It’s not like I can’t afford the entry fee these days!
  12. Write six flash-fictions – That’s an average of one every two months.
    1. The Hand of Doom
    2. The Lure of The End
    3. Blind Abbot
    4. No Trouble
    5. ZORK Owner’s Manual
  13. Draw the characters from Moonstruck – Much like I drew the characters from The Rising Wind.
  14. Go on a ten mile+ walk – I did this last year and loved it. Definitely need to do it again this year. Completed 21 July 2013. Went to the Peak District and did a circular walk that took in Cloud Thorpe, Dovedale and Illiam.
  15. Get to the half-way point on the 100 books to read list – I’m working my way through this list, but I’d like to finish the year at number fifty.
  16. Do ten awesomely-good push-ups – Push-ups are hard. I got to ten last year, I’d like to get to ten again this year. Note that this are ten with perfect form. UPDATE 8 February. I can now do three good push-ups. UPDATE 30 June 2014. I can now do six good push-ups. UPDATE 16 July 2014 – wasn’t going to not complete this one, so forced out 10 good form push-ups!
  17. Quit eating refined sugar for one week – I keep trying to do this, and keep failing. Dropping the amount of time to one week might help.
  18. Visit each of my mid-distance best friends at least once – Those being: Katie, Jake, Jemma, Matt and Josh.
  19. Visit the Lake District – I’ve never been. I want to go!
  20. Visit a new museum – I’ve been to a lot of museums, from the Natural History Museum in London down to the local shoe museum in my nearest big town. There’s always more. Completed 24 September 2013. Visited The Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. 
  21. Play chess – Used to do this a lot. Haven’t done it in ages. I need to find the time to play a minimum of one game of chess this year. Completed 25 June 2014. Played Paul twice, won once, lost once!
  22. Watch five movies I haven’t seen before – Last year I watched a number of new-to-me movies, including The Shining (amazing). Since I now have a LoveFilm account, I have no excuse.
    • Star Trek movies x 5 – okay, I’m counting these as one movie, even though there’s seven. I’ve been getting my Star Trek geek on, and basically watched the entire TOS and then the first five movies.
    • Taken – terrible movie about a man hunting for his kidnapped daughter.
    • The Hobbit – it could have been great. But it wasn’t.
    • Lethal Weapon – good movie.
    • Up – a tear-jerker that I loved. Completed December 2013.
  23. Go to an Oxford Geek Night – Planning to go to the one in August. Basically, I haven’t gone because I don’t feel like I’m a big enough geek and I’m scared of people. Boo. Completed 7 August 2013. It was really busy and I left halfway. But I did learn about websockets!
  24. Take some kind of class or course – Ongoing education and personal development is important. I’m not sure what I want to study yet, but I definitely want to do something. UPDATE: Signed up for an introduction to physiology class that starts on the 27 January! I spent around four weeks struggling hard with physiology. I figured out I really don’t care that much about our internal homeostatic systems!
  25. Save £8,000 – enough for me to take a year long sabbatical. UPDATE: I saved £3000, which doesn’t seem like a lot!
  26. Win NaNoWriMo – Coming this November. For some reason 50,000 words doesn’t seem as daunting this year. Maybe because I now know how hard the editing part is. First drafts are easy in comparison. UPDATE: Sadly I only wrote 15,000 words. 🙁 
  27. Get 3,600 unique visits to this website – over the course of the year. Achievable through consistent blogging and mild self-promotion. UPDATE 16 July 2014: Got 2,416 unique visits and 4,057 pageviews. I was not as consistent as I could have been!
  28. Increase the conversion rates at work – A work related goal! Basically I want to increase the conversion rate for the number of people that visit the website who then take a particular action. Completed December 2013.
  29. Watch five TED talks – You all know what TED is. This is the ambition to watch five videos of the TED talks, not to actually go and be a spectator.
  30. Emigrate to the USA – yeah, that’s the big one! My plan is to move out there before July 2014. That means visa, plane ticket, and organising my stuff in such a way that I can uproot myself and change continents. UPDATE – visa applied for and boat trip booked… but probable delays mean I may need to go across on a tourist visa or similar. UPDATE I’m now in the USA but only on a temporary visa. We’ve just had our NOA2, which means our petition has been approved and now we’re ready for the next round of paperwork!

Yikes! I feel exhausted just looking at that list. Here we go!