On the events at Charlie Hebdo

Obv the massacre at Charlie Hebdo is weighing heavily on me. A couple of thoughts:

  1. Trying to parse this as “well, satire is OK but they were really really offensive” is bound to fail and the worst kind of victim-blaming.
  2. There’s an irony here that this attack was clearly at attack at one of the pillars of the West’s Enlightenment values, the freedom of speech. The debate that must spring from this couldn’t be more clear: is political Islam compatible with the core civilizational value of freedom of speech?
  3. I know that today, I am much more confirmed as a freedom of speech absolutist than ever. In the past I have tried to parse and balance the freedom of speech with other values, thinking there must be an oh-so-Canadian middle way. I’m not so sure about that today. The freedom of speech *is* the freedom to offend, and to blaspheme, and even to hate. And the only reasonable answer to speech one disdains is more speech. Not to silence the other speakers, or writers, or cartoonists. Never to silence them.
  4. Please, help me overcome my ignorance: where is the high-profile Islamic enlightenment? Where is the leader who will stand up and promote and defend essential human freedoms like speech and expression and suggest that this must become a core value in the Islamic world? Where is the government in an established state who would allow the publication of Charlie Hebdo or even something much milder?


Rest in Peace, dear Ardessa

The first time we met was a challenge. Not a metaphorical challenge, or some kind of intellectual test with no ultimate meaning, it was an actual test. It was September 1994 and her downstairs neighbour and former roommate had had the temerity to return to Montreal with some kind of lover. To Ardessa, this was permitted – but would nevertheless require her approval.

So I was sitting in a strange apartment one street over from my new place wearing unfortunate khaki pants (which were never worn again) and a plaid button-down shirt (which was), sitting on a student-style futon that had been folded into its “couch” position. There was a big bottle of Chilean screwcap wine on the floor in front of me and I was holding a water tumbler full of the wine, looking up at this person standing before me, with blonde hair everywhere, and whose face alternated between nervous laughter and eyebrow-knitted interrogation as she tried to figure out who was this boy that N had brought home.

I passed the test, I suppose, and thus began a friendship with one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Whose friendship changed my life in ways that I didn’t understand then and never got the chance to tell her later. Who, I found out this morning at 6am, has passed away far too young.

We were never lovers – we never even made out (which is kind of surprising, if you knew Ardessa), and her friend N and I didn’t last very long as a couple (though we remained friends for a time). But for the next couple of years Ardessa became a great friend and, for a time, a constant companion. I was about 5 years older than everyone (at an age when 5 years was significant) so I was always a bit of an outsider with the group, but never with Ardessa.

Among the amazing group of artists and poets and singers who orbited her, Ardessa was always the brightest star. And she made sure that was the case, though not in an obnoxious way. Once she decided someone was a friend, that was that… at least until it wasn’t. Because when she broke with people, she broke with them completely – though to her credit she never (to my knowledge) used this as a weapon of manipulation.

She gave me a lot, this strange friend of mine. I look back and I was so naive and unsure of myself, just a young adult muddle of urges who was trying to succeed while slipping free of some of the expectations that had been placed upon him, with only a vague understanding of who I was or what I wanted. I carried myself with a lot more confidence than that – but that someone so completely given over to her art not only accepted me but liked me and sought me out… well, it gave me a confidence that I really needed.

Really, Ardessa had a kind of magic inside of her, and nurtured all of the magic around her – and if she couldn’t see the magic in a person, she either brought it out of them or… well there was no second option. I was always worried for her, this magical friend, because what happens to a person when there just isn’t any magic around? As far as I know, she never found that out. I hope she never did.

And so I have lived differently because Ardessa was in my life, because she helped me to see how awesome a life with a little magic could be. To a small extent I still measure up new experiences and people by asking “What would Ardessa think?” Not because I need her approval – it’s more subtle than that. It’s just that things just seem brighter and better when the Ardessas of the world (few as they are) are enthusiastic about them. And so if you’ve had the privilege of calling a woman named Ardessa “friend” that brightness and joy is something to be sought, or to feel guilty for not having sought when you lapse into the mundane or the typical.

So… be at peace, dear Ardessa. I’ll always miss you.

Cool idea; unfortunate nickname

Building skyscrapers from wood products (engineered wood products made from wood and resin for the most part) is a very cool idea, but the nickname for the process they came up with is unfortunate: tall wood. Young men in engineering schools around the world are going to snicker about that one for years to come…

It’s not a conspiracy of any kind!

My friend Peter Wheeland is right on target here: Moving Day is not an anti-anglo conspiracy. We need more voices like his and fewer cranks and paranoiacs in the discussion in Quebec these days.

Incidentally, I’m not moving on Moving Day and haven’t moved on that day in years.

Twitter use on mobile devices, mapped

OK so this is super cool: Mobile Devices + Twitter Use. This link is zoomed in to focus on Montreal but you can zoom around and view anywhere around the globe (pretty much).

More info from the site:

More than 280 million Tweets posted from mobile phones reveal geographic usage patterns in unprecedented detail.

Homer and Social Networks

It has been two years since I was involved in social network mapping professionally but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest – I keep seeing interesting applications of these approaches as network mapping techniques continue to make the jump into all kinds of academic disciplines. The latest: The Remarkable Properties of Mythological Social Networks.

Basically – the social networks in The Odyssey (Homer, obv) are remarkably similar to real-life modern social networks, which is evidence that the epic poem is in fact based to some extent on real events and real people. Cool.

Russell Brand rocks

If anyone’s wondering why people turn to comedians for their news and editorial commentary, watch Russell Brand take the “Morning Joe” crew to the woodshed. Skip ahead to around the 4 min mark if you’re in a rush.

Interesting call for a “fixer” movement

Wired.com has published an interesting piece about the need for a “fixer” movement not just a Maker movement: We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement.

Intro to Metadata analysis

With all the discussion about the NSA and other organizations’ surveillance of online sources it’s important to understand what people are writing about. In fact, one of the chief complaints about journalistic coverage so far is that journalists seem to be getting the story more wrong than right – whether this is due to a fundamental lack of comprehension of the subject matter or for more wilful reasons is tough to assess.

Anyhow… earlier this month Kieran Healy published a super-interesting intro to “Metadata Analysis” – i.e., the analysis not of messages’ contents, but information about the messages: Using Metadata to find Paul Revere.

Hopefully not an idle threat…

There’s too much going on. I must start blogging again. I’ve refreshed the template here to be a little more flexible and I’m going to start bringing over some of the content I’ve put into Facebook and elsewhere soon.

But… I’ve said this before and not followed through. We’ll see.