Friday, September 13, 2013

We must support The Guardian

This post is embarrassingly late but I suppose it's better than never. It was around 19th August that I learnt of an alarming series of episodes concerning The Guardian: the detention of the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist publishing Edward Snowden's explosive documents on spying by the NSA and GCHQ; government agents sent to the paper's offices to destroy its computers; and prime minister David Cameron ordering a top aide to threaten the paper that it faced "serious consequences" if it continued reporting.

Today I've become tardily aware of the opportunity to sign an open letter of support for The Guardian and its journalists in withstanding all this pressure from the UK government. The letter was put together on 22 Aug by SumOfUs.

So I've belatedly signed the letter and suggest you do too. SumOfUs claims, correctly so far as I can see, that the UK government is trying to intimidate and shut down The Guardian's investigation into the NSA scandal. “For this to be happening in the UK is chilling” they say, and their letter aims “to show The Guardian, its journalists, and editor that they have public support for their vital work in revealing the true extent of mass spying programmes” and to demonstrate to the UK government and its intelligence agencies that “we will not allow our basic rights and freedoms to be curtailed.”

Here's where you can sign the letter.

The Guardian has established itself as a major force in global journalism, having broken stories on the Wikileaks diplomatic files, the UK phone hacking scandal, and now perhaps its most important scoop, revealing that every person’s phone, email and web history is tracked and stored by the NSA and Western intelligence agencies.

This link dated 19 August 2013 is Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face

SumOfUs by the way is something I had never heard of till today, maybe I ought to have.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tongue tied on Syria

I've been uncharacteristically quiet for a fortnight; not because I've nothing on my mind but because the one thing that is on my mind I can't work out what to say about, and that's Syria. I have plenty to say about the regrettable decline of strong verbs in English, whether it's good or bad we can live to 150, Jane Austen films, whether artificial intelligence is an illusion, the new pope and liberation theology … but it seems trivial to be writing about any of these when Syria is hanging over my head. And there's Egypt of course, a puzzle all of its own …

A military analyst interviewed in the Irish Examiner on 27th August says there's no doubt in his mind that a so-called surgical strike by the US to eliminate Assad’s chemical arsenal would lead to hundreds, at the least, of civilian casualties. That’s pretty typical I suppose of numerous other analyses we’ve all seen in the past three weeks.  And really what this means is that I've been cudgelling my brains in vain … puzzling over a series of what-if’s which may be fine and necessary, but actually belong in a philosophy classroom ... 

… if we can surely we should …

… but if we can't, if hardly matters whether we should or not …

I came across a piece in the New York Times by someone who’s been thrashing around in the same thicket as me. Rolad Sokol writing about the Antigone principle.  Antigone’s brother had fought on the losing side in a civil war. Creon decreed him a traitor and no-one was allowed to bury him. Accused in the Sophocles play that burying her brother's mortal remains constitutes a crime against the state, Antigone defies Creon: “I never thought your laws had such force that they nullified the laws of heaven, which though unwritten, and not proclaimed, can boast a currency everlastingly valid; an origin beyond the birth of man.”  

Sokol finishes: “In the case of Syria there exists moral agreement that the use of chemical weapons was an atrocity, and perhaps even that Syria committed it, but no consensus will be reached about who should be the 21st century Antigone who must go to Damascus, or what rites need be performed once she gets there.”

Before signing off,  I'll just draw attention to a New Scientist editorial suggesting dropping medicines, not bombs.  Sarin gas antidotes administered in the hours and days after a Sarin attack can save lives and reduce the chances of chronic symptoms in survivors, it claims. And leaflets advising people what to do during a Sarin attack could make a huge difference, too. Many people died in Damascus because they hid in basements, when they would have been safer on the top floors, since Sarin vapour is heavier than air.