#SamaritansRadar: Link collection

So #SamaritansRadar is one of those topics where wiser and more eloquent people have already written about it at such length that there’s nothing much that I can add other than collating a handful of pertinent blogposts.

If you have no idea what this is all about, then in a nutshell: The mental health charity Samaritans launched an app that will trawl through the tweets of every Twitter user you follow, and sends you an email if the app’s text analysis software decides that one of these users if tweeting in a way that indicates that s/he is feeling “troubled” (which appears to be a euphemism for “suicidal”).

The Samaritans describe their project here, and defend it here.

The petition to have the app shut down outlines several of the many objections to this concept. Takeaway quote: “Samaritans Radar makes Twitter a less comfortable and useful place for people with emotional and mental health problems. (….) The simple fact that the Samaritans — an organisation which they may otherwise trust and have sensitive conversations with offline — may now be collecting and analysing their tweets could be enough for some people to censor what they say or to withdraw entirely. (…) This puts vulnerable people more at risk by separating them from their friends and online sources of support.

Jon Mendel provides another shortish summary of the problems caused by the app. Takeaway quote: “Samaritans argue that “All the data used in the app is public, so user privacy is not an issue. Samaritans Radar analyses the Tweets of the people you follow, which are public Tweets”.[4] This is a bad argument. By way of analogy, my office window looks out on a public street – whatever people do there is public. There would still, though, be privacy issues if I installed a video camera in my window to tape what people did outside; there would be bigger issues if, say, I allowed interested parties to subscribe to alerts when person X or Y walks past my window drunk.

Paul Bernal’s blogpost deals not only with this specific issue, but also with the general topic of the widespread wooly thinking that fails to distinguish between the many shades of grey between our “public” and “private” activities. Takeaway quote: “[The Samaritans’ reasoning is logical] only if you think that ‘private-public’ is a two-valued, black-and-white issue. Either something is ‘public’ and available to all, or it’s ‘private’ and hidden. Privacy, both in the ‘real’ world and on Twitter, doesn’t work like that. It’s far more complex and nuanced than that – and anyone who thinks in those simple terms is fundamentally misunderstanding privacy.

Blogger Latent Existence makes many of the same points (albeit with a really daft background/font colour scheme (sorry)). Takeaway quote: “Are you the kind of person that sneaks up to people’s private conversations to monitor them just because they’re in a public place? Because that doesn’t tell me I don’t know how things work, that tells me that you don’t know how society works.”

Blogger jemina2013 quotes some dubious statistics about the causes of suicide, but is well worth reading for her viciously accurate dissection of the Samaritans hand-washing and accusatory defence of their app. Takeaway quote: “The idea [that] there are some of [us] who use twitter as a “broadcast” platform and they are causing all the problems is an interesting one to say the list. Apparently we don’t have friends on Twitter, it is simply a way we “promote our brand” as we broadcast our thoughts. Proper Twitter users only talk to people they have vetted, and have met on at least three occasions in the presence of a chaperone and responsible adult.”

Charlotte Walker does an excellent job of constructing the real-life analogy to #SamaritansRadar, showcasing how people (yet again) defend forms of online behaviour and monitoring that would be roundly and unaniousmly condemned in they occurred in real life. Takeaway quote: “Mr Sam wants to make it easier for vulnerable people to be watched. For their own good.”

Adrian Short (very legimately) abandons the scrupulously level-headed approach in favour of justified indignation at a charity which refuses to listen to the people they’re supposed to be aiding. Takeaway quote: “The Samaritans have set up an opt-out for people who don’t want their data to be collected, which means that the Samaritans are now collecting the online identities of people concerned about having their data collected by the Samaritans. (…) The spectacle of watching vulnerable people concerned about their privacy having to publicly petition a charity to stop spying on them is nothing short of revolting.”

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Quote of the Day: H.G. Wells on climate conferences

OK, technically speaking this quote (from H.G. Wells’ 1933 novel-cum-essay The Shape of Things to Come) isn’t about climate conferences, but about the world economic conference held in London in 1933 to attempt to solve the ongoing Great Depression through international economic cooperation. But Wells’ description of how the pressure of national interests caused the assembled politicians to fail to agree on any common effort to avert the looming crisis, seems eminently applicable to the succession of largely inconclusive conferences held 75-80 years later on how to combat climate change and global warming. Continue reading

Poem of the Day: Longfellow

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Arsenal at Springfield

The tumult of each sacked and burning village;
The shout that every prayer for mercy drowns;
The soldiers’ revels in the midst of pillage;
The wail of famine in beleaguered towns;

The bursting shell, the gateway wrenched asunder,
The rattling musketry, the clashing blade;
And ever and anon, in tones of thunder
The diapason of the cannonade. Continue reading

Poem of the Day: Easter Hymn

Easter Hymn

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain,
You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain,
Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright
Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night
The hate you died to quench and could but fan,
Sleep well and see no morning, son of man.

But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by,
At the right hand of majesty on high
You sit, and sitting so remember yet
Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat,
Your cross and passion and the life you gave,
Bow hither out of heaven and see and save.

A.E. Housman

Top 100 Books (fiction)

A highly personal and subjective list of my favourite novels and plays, in no particular order beyond the top 10 being a separate grouping.

As the astute reader will quickly realize, the list is a very long way from containing 100 titles at the moment – it’s very much a work in progress, with new titles being added whenever I read (or remember) books that are worthy of inclusion.

Short stories (or collections of short stories) are not included, although novellas are, and occasionally a whole series of several books as a single entry.

Titles marked with a star* are those that are included on the list not entirely on their own merits, but somewhat more as ‘placeholders’ representing an author who deserves inclusion on the strength of their collected work.

Brand, Henrik Ibsen
Fortuna, Alexander Kielland
Sult (Hunger), Knut Hamsun
Richard II, William Shakespeare
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Hyperion/The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front), Erich Maria Remarque


It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis
Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw
Dyadya Vanya (Uncle Vanya), Anton Chekhov
Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler
Copenhagen, Michael Frayn
Travesties*, Tom Stoppard
The Invention of Love*, Tom Stoppard
Leave it to Psmith*, P.G. Wodehouse
A Song of Ice and Fire (series), George R.R. Martin
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
The Sarantine Mosaic* (series), Guy Gavriel Kay
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
Myortvyjye dushi (Dead Souls), Nikolai Gogol
Kleiner Mann, Was Nun? (What Now, Little Man?), Hans Fallada
Válka s mloky (War With the Salamanders), Karel Capek
Bondestudentar* (Farmer-students), Arne Garborg
Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams
Vildanden (The Wild Duck), Henrik Ibsen
Kongs-Emnerne (The Pretenders), Henrik Ibsen
Englandsfarere (A Boat for England), Sigurd Evensmo
The Fountains of Paradise*, Arthur C. Clarke
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner
Zapiski iz podpol’ya (Notes from Underground), Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat, Steven Lukes
The Crucible, Arthur Miller
The Iceman Cometh, Eugene O’Neill
Ansichten eines Clowns (Opinions of a Clown), Heinrich Böll
Dokument rörande spelaren Rubashov (Documents concerning the gambler Rubashov), Carl Johan Vallgren
Antigone, Jean Anouilh
Hogfather*, Terry Pratchett