Link blog: stack-overflow, discussion, joel-spolsky, culture

▶ Founders@Google Presents: The Cultural Anthropology of Stack Exchange – YouTube
A presentation from Joek Spolsky on the Stack Exchange sites and the culture they’re trying to promote there, contrasted with things like discussion forums, other "answers" sites, and whatnot.
(tags: discussion stack-exchange joel-spolsky internet stack-overflow culture)
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Link blog: politics, law, privacy, nsa

The mandatory tweets of the self-righteous vacillating centrist stats bore: a user’s guide – Telegraph Blogs
"Sit back with a look of superiority on your face." Tee hee. I think I’ve probably used some of these (though not on Twitter of course, that’s for twits).
(tags: argument twitter funny)
A plea for politeness; or, a call for kindness | Slave of the Passions
"politeness is something you owe to me not in virtue of my natural superiority over you, but in virtue of our equality. You should be polite to me, not in deference to my authority, but in recognition of our shared humanity, according to which I, like you, am a human being with feelings, weaknesses and frustrations; I am vulnerable and capable of being hurt, just as you are." But are people who are systematically better off than others as vulnerable?
(tags: argument politeness privilege philosophy)
Feds Threaten To Arrest Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service | Techdirt
If you shut down your email service rather than giving the US government a back door, they’ll threaten to arrest you.
(tags: law politics nsa email encryption privacy lavabit)
Glenn Greenwald’s partner detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours
"David Miranda, partner of Guardian interviewer of whistleblower Edward Snowden, questioned under Terrorism Act." This is why we don’t permit laws which allow people to be held for long periods without charge, even if the laws are ostensibly about fighting "terrorism". There’s no way that the UK authorities can seriously think Miranda is a terrorist. Via Metafilter, where they’re speculating that the US and UK are spooked because they don’t know what Snowden has actually got.
(tags: law politics terrorism nsa spying heathrow privacy edward-snowden glenn-greenwald gchq)
Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
"I am an independent Q.C. and not part of the government machine. I am tasked with reviewing the operation of the United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism laws. Where I am critical, I recommend change. My reports and recommendations are submitted to ministers and laid before Parliament." Interesting blog posts and reports on the police use of their anti-terrorism powers.
(tags: law politics terrorism police)
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Richard Dawkins and the Islamic Nobel Prizewinners

Richard Dawkins is in the news again, for his twits on Twitter pointing out that Trinity College has produced more Nobel prizewinners than Islam. While he accepts that Muslims were great shakes in the Middle Ages, they haven’t done much science lately, apparently. By saying this, Dawkins has caused a bit of a stir.

Dawkins futher explains his views in a post on his site.

Dawkins is right about science in the Muslim world

Neil deGrasse Tyson makes Dawkins’s point at greater length. The Islamic world has long since lost its former scientific glory. Tyson puts the blame on Al Ghazali and a switch from inquiry to accepting “revelation”1. A much more extensive article on the decline, in the form of an interview with a Turkish physicist, makes the point that the Golden Age mixed the precursors to modern science with a lot of other weird stuff (but shurely this also applied in the West?)

Whatever the reasons, it seems Dawkins is right to say things ain’t what they used to be. Contra Nesrine Malik, he didn’t make the statement out of the blue, but rather, as part of a debate on the role of Islam in the birth of science (see this previous twit, for example). Everyone thinks science is a Good Thing2, so both Muslims and Christians like to claim credit for fostering science. Dawkins’s stuff about Nobel prizes should be read as “what have you done for us in the last 500 years, then?”

That’s racist!

(Edit:)Writing before Dawkins posted about Nobel Prizes (end of edit), Alex Gabriel says that some of Dawkins’s twits are racist statements.3

What sort of thing is a “racist statement”? It seems it’s something that encourages prejudice (a fault of reasoning) which can lead to discrimination (a moral fault), all on the grounds of race. However, it then doesn’t seem to follow that we ought never to make “racist statements”, because it all depends on how much encouragement we’re giving.

The best thing I’ve seen written about the interaction between criticism of Islam and racism is Russell Blackford’s piece in Talking Philosophy. Blackford says that “opponents of Islam who do not wish to be seen as the extreme-right’s sympathizers or dupes would be well-advised to take care in the impression that they convey”. I agree with Gabriel’s point that Dawkins’s support for Pat Condell and talk of “barbarians” and “alien” stuff shows Dawkins’s failure to take care here. But I see the EDL re-tweeted some of Dawkins’s twits about Islamic science, and I don’t think that implies Dawkins should not have talked about that. As Blackford says “After all, there are reasons why extreme-right organizations have borrowed arguments based on feminism, secularism, etc. These arguments are useful precisely because they have an intellectual and emotional appeal independent of their convenience to opportunists.”

Gabriel also says that it’s unacceptable to single Islam out for criticism. I don’t see any reason to think that. People may have legitimate reasons for singling out Islam: perhaps they know a lot about it (because they are ex-Muslims, say) or perhaps they think it is more harmful than other religions. Dawkins himself famously doesn’t single out Islam, usually leading to taunts of “you wouldn’t dare say that about Muslims” when he criticises Christianity4. So a criticism of Dawkins on those grounds seems to be either false or a “why aren’t you also addressing these evils?” sort of criticism (which is bad, as this expert guide to epistemic rationality could tell you).

9781118038048_p0_v1_s260x420Twitter is for twits

Finally, all of these people (including Dawkins) are foolish for taking Twitter spats seriously. The 140 character limit on twits precludes serious discussion, so it’s either for telling your friends what you had for lunch today, or getting your hit of self-righteous rage by swapping telegrams with people whose views you violently disagree with. The whole thing could fall into the sea tomorrow and nothing of value would be lost, John Donne notwithstanding. If Malik found that reading Dawkins’s twits hashed her Eid mellow, there’s an obvious solution.

In conclusion: the only legitimate use of Twitter is to link to blog posts. Get off my lawn.

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  1. Though this comment seems to be a counterpoint to that 

  2. Believers like point to bits of their scripture and claim that verse is, if you use the eye of faith and squint a bit, actually a correct scientific statement that the authors could not possibly have known by mundane means, which proves that God revealed it. Oddly, God did not see fit to reveal that germs cause disease. 

  3. If you’re in Internet social justice fandom, you carefully avoid saying “Jones is a racist”, rather, you say “Jones said X, and X is a racist statement”: it’s like the “hate the sin, love the sinner” thing I remember from my evangelical days. While the evangelicals and social justice fans are rightly trying to avoid ad hom arguments or giving the impression that they are not themselves sinners, I think the two share the same difficulties. 

  4. The jargon for that sort of taunt is “fatwa envy”

Link blog: prism, spying, nsa, privacy

The Ecuadorian Library — Geek Empire — Medium
SF author Bruce Sterling on Assange, Manning and Snowden, and the surveillance geeks at the NSA: "Citizens and rights have nothing to do with elite, covert technologies! The targets of surveillance are oblivious dorks, they’re not even newbies! Even US Senators are decorative objects for the NSA. An American Senator knows as much about PRISM and XKeyScore as a troll-doll on the dashboard knows about internal combustion." Via Mefi
(tags: politics bradley-manning nsa russia spying bruce-sterling xkeyscore julian-assange edward-snowden wikileaks internet prism)
What they mean when the government says “We do not have ‘direct’ access to your info” | Fabius Maximus
They mean "we’re sniffing the traffic, we don’t have root on Google’s servers", alleges Marcus Ranum.
(tags: nsa google spying sniffer marcus-ranum privacy security prism)
Gigantic Pentagram Found in Kazakhstan – Can Be Seen in Google Maps – The Vigilant Citizen – The Vigilant Citizen
Paging Charles Stross…
(tags: kazakhstan maps occult laundry pentagram)
Oversight: Thank you for volunteering, citizen. – YouTube
What David Cameron did next.
(tags: parody surveillance privacy funny oversight internet prism satire)
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Link blog: google, nsa, paranormal, jesus

UFOs, Ghosts and a Rising God
Chris Hallquist’s debunking of the stories of the resurrection of Jesus is now online. It’s a good read. It’s mostly a response to popular apologetics on the subject (Habermas, Craig, McDowell and so on) and an argument that the evidence is worse than that for more modern paranormal events which we justly reject (the ghosts and UFOs of the title).
(tags: history william-lane-craig christianity jesus resurrection apologetics scepticism ufo paranormal chris-hallquist)
Do try not to get your penis stuck in a toaster. A message from the fire brigade | Dave Brown | Comment is free | theguardian.com
"Our #FiftyShadesofRed campaign is designed to remind people we should be attending fires, not tambourines on heads or yet another handcuff incident."
(tags: fire-brigade bdsm sex funny)
Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the internet is | Technology | The Observer
"The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system. Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their "cloud" services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA. That means that if you’re thinking of outsourcing your troublesome IT operations to, say, Google or Microsoft, then think again."
(tags: nsa google xkeyscore cloud edward-snowden security internet china)
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