Whistleblowing – are we even allowed to dare?

Repression photoPaul Brookes, an associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, dared to be a whistleblower.  According to an interview he gave in the Magazine Science, he was author of the now defunct blog science-fraud.org. Like oh so many, he tried to achieve that via the internet. After realising that a lot of the scientific literature that is published contains faults in the form of wrong data, wrong or missing sources, and more, he decided that it was high time to speak out against bad writing and publishing practice. In order to protect his university and himself, he wrote about the problems anonymously. But with the way the internet actually functions, it was not that hard to blow his cover. Somebody apparently tracked back his IP Adress, and since his blog was uncomfortable for more than a few fellow scientists, someone, yet again anonymous, send an email to his university and to other institutions, exposing him and threatening with a law suit. Brookes subsequently declared his authorship the next day and removed the blog from the internet. Fortunately, the university, although not being particularly happy about Brookes actions, led him hold on to his job and Brookes is still blogging about faulty papers. Now under his own name and strictly in his private time. Continue reading “Whistleblowing – are we even allowed to dare?”

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Is it us or is it them?

ImageThe US-German friendship is stable, right? Or is it? How much is a friend allowed to know and how much of this knowledge is a friend allowed to gain without the other person’s knowledge? Apparently, friendship does not equal friendship and some people have more rights than others. What I am referring to here is obviously the NSA scandal. So much has been said about it already, that I actually did not want to write about it anymore. However, the recent development with regards to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel do make me really angry. I am not angry about the NSA spying on Mrs. Merkel in particular. I do not think it is correct to spy out your own citizens without a good reason, let alone people in other countries. I am angry, because Mrs. Merkel did not say much when the NSA scandal broke several month ago, hence showing that she essentially was in accord with the NSA and saw no fault with the action, but she is bitterly complaining now. But is there a difference in the NSA spying on her or spying on random citizens? Politically there is a difference, and I am well aware of that. Continue reading “Is it us or is it them?”

How much do we value our freedom?

Benjamin_Franklin (1)For some reason that I am not even aware of anymore, I believed that countries who spy on their citizens are not democratic ones but only those which are governed by a dictator who suffers from an understandable fear of the people he is actually governing. Apparently I was obviously very wrong about that. Edward Snowden, the US ex-NSA (National Security Agency) technician, turned whistleblower on the government, has showed to all of us, that for the US, spying, and not only on its citizens but also on the citizens in many other countries, seems to be quite a normal procedure. (Even though the NSA now states that it mainly spies on people in other countries. Somehow, for me living in Germany, that does not make it on bid better.) Snowden revealed that the NSA has a system called Prism that is designed to track phone and internet connections, and is able to reveal every information about its use and the attached user. It is supposed to work with big companies like Google and Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.” Says Edward Snowden in an interview with the Guardian that was conducted Monday the 10th of June in Hong Kong. Since then Snowden has checked out of the hotel and is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong.
James Clapper, Chief of the NSA has said that the system was not a snooping device to spy on people outside the US but an internal system of the government that is only used to counter terrorism. Unfortunately, even this leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can be widely used if the NSA deems it appropriate. So, the public does not really know how Prism functions, nor what it is actually targeting. Does a red flag on some system come up when I write the word “bomb” three times? Does a red flag come up as soon as I publish this blog because I voice criticism towards the NSA and the US government? Do I have to be afraid now? Even if I would be, and let me say, I am not, I would write and publish my criticism. It is unbelievable how our personal freedom and our liberties are treated since 9/11. As well as I can understand the fear, the way we are behaving, the terrorists have already won, because they have struck perpetual terror in our minds. And they use our fear very cleverly, because now someone like Edward Snowden cannot voice his opinions anymore without having to fear, not some terrorists, but his fellow countrymen who want to prosecute him for saying the truth and for explaining to the public how it is treated by those who claim that they have a claim and a right to protect us. And even though I can imagine that Snowden was probably sworn to secrecy when he was accepted as a NSA employee, it must be possible for each and every individual to follow their conscience and to stand up and speak out. I cannot give you a good answer as to where to draw the line between liberty and security. But I can quote Benjamin Franklin “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And to end with a thought of my own, I am deeply unhappy that this wisdom is still not adhered to. How many more liberties and freedoms do we have to lose to understand that this is not worth all the security in the world?

Pussy Riot – or what is (religious) freedom to you?

ImageFor months and months the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot has dominated the news in various ways. Pussy Riot is an all-female band based in Moscow. The members all wear balaclavas when they are performing, because they are protesting against the Kremlin and against the Putin-led government and were and are afraid of the police arresting them. On March 4th, it has happened. The group performed, on February 21st early in the morning, in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow, Christ the Savior, and three members were subsequently arrested. Maria Alyokhina,24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova,22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich,29, spent the last seven and a half month in a prison in Moscow being tried for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released on appeal, while her two band mates were convicted and sentenced to two years of prison camp respectively. Putin claims that the sentencing was not politically motivated and that he had no voice in the sentencing process. He even goes so far as to claim that he had no knowledge of the group before the video shoot in the Cathedral. This claim seems hardly to be believable. Putin normally knows pretty well what is going on in his country and especially in Moscow and most especially if it involves an entire group of young people, most of them in their twenties and maybe thirties, who are consistently protesting against the government. Continue reading “Pussy Riot – or what is (religious) freedom to you?”

A “brave new world” revealed, not?!?

ImageOver two years ago I wrote a blog entry entitled “Brave New World.” In that entry I mused about the possibilities of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, about its search for the Higgs boson and the idea that everything we know about the world can change in the blink of an eye. When the LHC was started for the first time, there was a lot of excitement going around in the physics community. Particle physicists were waiting anxiously for results to surface. However, for over two years the LHC was riddled with problems. The magnets were broken, or too strong to hold the current and other such things that spelled a serious handicap for the LHC. The friendly competitors at Fermilab, near Chicago, now had the possibility to maybe beat the folks at CERN. The Tevatron at Fermi however was closed in 2011. Results of many of the experiments however were still being analyzed and showed a definite possibility of a Higgs boson. In early July of 2012 the elusive Higgs boson, or a particle that at least had the possibilities of the Higgs, was discovered at CERN. Peter Higgs himself was present and so were many physicists and observers of the wider particle physics community.  But did Miranda’s brave new world appear? Continue reading “A “brave new world” revealed, not?!?”

What we did and did not learn from 9/11

The ten year anniversary of 9/11 is just over and although I am well aware that many people are writing about it, I do feel compelled to do so too, since I have lived in New York City, and in the area of Ground Zero.  I am still shaken when I see the video footage of that day. And I believe so are many people. But the question is, if these pictures only make us think about past events, or if they make us reflect on the here and now. Since 9/11 we have lived under the constant threat that something similar would happen again. And it did, for example in London and Madrid. Although and mercifully on a smaller scale. But that does not make these events any less memorable. But what do we remember? The people that we have lost and the fear we felt that day? Or should we actually remember the feeling of companionship after these events? Continue reading “What we did and did not learn from 9/11”

Can the political philosopher help?

London in the moment resembles a zone of civil war. The pictures in the news highlight how much the city has changed in the last 48 hours. Riots are happening in the streets, and rioters are breaking into stores, carrying as much out as they can. Restaurant owners have to defend their guests and everyone has to start to worry about break-ins in private homes. However, the weirdest fact is, is that there is no rhyme or reason for all this. Yes, there was a deadly shooting when the police attempted to arrest a man in London. But that does not explain why protest against the police shooting spiralled out of control and is now spread over the whole country. David Cameron now tries, together with the Ministry of Defence, to find solutions to the problem. But when the reasons for the riots are not clear, how do you fight it? Continue reading “Can the political philosopher help?”