Sunday, October 17, 2004

Sign the Indymedia Solidarity Statement

Follow-up on a previous post about Indymedia servers in the UK being seized by the FBI: The servers have now been returned, but with no explanation from US, UK, Swiss or Italian authorities (all of whom were in one way or another involved). It is widely speculated, however, that the seizure is related to posts that were made on an Indymedia Web site that included photographs of two police officers investigating the anti-globlization riots in 2003 during the G-8 summit.

Probably the real danger of this sort of thing is not in the direct threat to free speech, but in the creation of a climate that makes it increasingly difficult to publish information freely. Indymedia will now think twice before publishing photographs of police officers. Web service providers think twice before signing up organisations such as Indymedia.

Indymedia has in the mean time put up a declaration in support of the Indymedia network, which it asks concerned people to sign.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Return of George Bush and the mad-doctors

In June I mentioned the scheme to introduce mental health screening in the US. At the time most of the critical coverage related to the close links between the Bush family and drug companies who were likely to benefit greatly from the scheme. I commented that while it is important to establish who will make money from it, the broader issue was the ongoing medicalisation and psychologisation of American and world society. The Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together blog today also comments on what I think is the same initiative, which apparently goes by the wonderfully sinister name of "New Freedom Commission". Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together are of the opinion that "they are actively pursuing an expansion of the child market for psychiatric pharmaceuticals" and urge readers to sign the anti mental health screening petition provided by (look for the "click to sign" link on the left of their home page). Ablechild says it consists of a "growing number of parents outraged over both the subjective labeling (ADHD, ADD, OCD, ODD) and pervasive drugging of our children".

I support what Psychologists Acting with Conscience Together and are doing, but again want to emphasize that the screening thing is wrong for reasons that go beyond corporate greed. There are a number of different critical angles on this and I think it is important to give more airtime to those towards the end of this list:

  • Bad faith. Yes, clearly many of these sorts of initiatives are driven by motives other than helping people with "mental illness", such as making a fast buck.
  • Bad science I. Yes, clearly a disturbing number of drug studies appear not to be sufficiently carefully done and sufficiently honestly reported on.
  • Bad science II. In addition, the sort of science that tries to isolate and measure variables is often not relevant to the rich, culturally embedded, constantly unfolding lives we live. There is a lot of collective wisdom out there about the challenges and disappointments and surprises that we face every day, but it is not the sort of wisdom quantitative scientist can ever 'discover'. So the problem is perhaps not so much the "subjective labeling" that complains about, but rather attempts at objective labeling in a domain which operates on very different principles.
  • Bad politics. Screening and treating individuals can sometimes be helpful, but it also draws attention away from social and political ills by ascribing our difficulties in living to individual psychological problems.

Intellectual property and the development agenda

Asia Times online today reports on the successful efforts by Bolivia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, and Venezuela to push a development agemda at the recent general assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva. In a supporting declaration signed by "hundreds of scientists, academics, NGOs and individuals" the WIPO is urged not to "impose global conformity" because "a one-size-fits-all approach that embraces the highest levels of intellectual property protection for everyone leads to ludicrous outcomes for countries that are struggling to meet the most basic needs of their citizens." While I support efforts to counter attempts by especially US corporations and the US government to coerce everybody else into accepting their very restrictive view of intellectual property, I'm also worried by the implication that looser forms of intellectual property rights should apply in the developing world because we need a hand up, while the developed world can afford to have the real, high-quality thing. The current intellectual property right regime in the US is bad for Americans and they need to be liberated from it as much as we do. Creative Commons has also recently started going down the "development agenda" road with the launch of their developing nations license which allows for free use but only in developing nations. Responses have been mixed, with some welcoming it while others see it as, amongst other things, paternalistic.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Creative commons license for critical psychology article

Unbeknownst to most critical psychologists, there's a huge war being fought on the intellectual property front between those who seem to want corporate ownership of everything and those who want to grow the public domain. Creative commons is becoming an increasingly important weapon in this war - allowing authors to make their creative work freely available (while retaining some rights if they want to). So, to do our bit Desmond and I have slapped a creative commons license on our paper about Critical Psychology in South Africa. It's an "Attribution-NonCommercial Commons Deed", which means that anyone is free to "copy, distribute, display, and perform the work [and] to make derivative works" provided they mention that we were the original authors and don't use it for commercial purposes without first asking our permision.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Derrida and superman die

Definitely a sign of getting old when one starts reading the obituaries. Christopher Reeve's death is getting a lot of coverage of course, but I was amazed at how unimportant Derrida seems to have become - just a tiny mention in the (South African) Sunday Times. The Times Online used the opportunity to try and make some witty remarks (A conceptual foundation for the deconstruction of mortality) while helpfully explains that 'deconstructionism is the nonsensical infantile "philosophy" that argues that words have no meaning'. Ah well.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Indymedia raided by FBI

The Independent Media Center has had one of their servers, located in the UK, seized by the FBI, on request from government agencies in Italy and Switzerland. This sort of thing is now possible due to a series of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs) that the US has signed with other countries. By Sunday Indymedia had not been informed what the official reason for the seizure was, but it is part of a recent pattern of FBI action against independent news organizations. The Independent Media Center "is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage". Amongs other things, they support an independent radio network.