A horrendous shooting in New Zealand has been directly linked to the increase in violent and racist rhetoric in the news and online. It raises significant and difficult questions about the language used by politicians and personalities, and legitimised by our media. In a time where public trust and unity is at a low, we should be pulling together to embrace everyone that makes up our brilliant, diverse and vibrant global society, not shunning them in favour of isolation. I can only applaud the solitude that New Zealand has shown in the wake of their tragedy. Such societal fortitude and political resolve is admirable, and a model we should look to quickly export across the world, because life is too short for hatred.
It’s also admirable how students across the world have taken collective action to try and prompt effective and immediate policy changes in relation to climate change. It’s just a shame that they have to, and political response has been so tepid.
Christchurch shooting shocks the world
50 people were killed and a further 50 were injured in a premeditated shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman first opened fire at al Noor mosque, before he drove to Linwood mosque and killed another seven. He was eventually arrested at gunpoint by police.
The gunman, an Australian far-right white supremacist, had livestreamed part of the attack on Facebook, and it was reposted millions of times as social media networks struggled to take it down quick enough. The attacker had also written a manifesto, a 73-page document titled The Great Replacement, sharing the title from a book written by Renaud Camus that details immigration in France. The attack has prompted discussion in Australia around the increase in Islamophobia and racist rhetoric, but New Zealand has taken more direct action and is seeking an immediate ban on assault rifles, military-style semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
The victims, whose ages range from three to 77, were praying at the time.
Youth climate strikes held in 100 countries
What started off as one 16-year-olds weekly protest outside of Parliament has become a global movement of tens of thousands of school and university students. Last Friday (15 March) tens of thousands of students in over 100 countries collectively went on strike to march for change in the first global climate strike.
Swedish student Greta Thunberg has inspired young people across the world to speak up for their future and push for governments to start taking climate change seriously - and has picked up a Nobel peace prize nomination in the process. Students all over the world, including developing nations such as India, Nepal, and the Philippines added their voice to the rising cacophony calling for immediate action to help limit climate change. Politicians have been lacklustre in their support, with UK education secretary saying it wasted lesson time, but others like the environment secretary, Michael Gove, releasing a video praising the action.
Free sanitary products to be made available for schools in England
The government has approved funding for free sanitary products to be made accessible in secondary schools throughout England. Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Exchequer, made the announcement in his Spring Statement last Wednesday.
Many young girls live in period poverty, unable to afford sanitary products during their monthly period. According to research by Plan International, an independent humanitarian organisation, this can have a negative impact on their education. Their studies found that 49% of girls living in period poverty have missed an entire day of school because of their monthly cycle. The move has been welcomed by campaigners, but many express the need for free period products to be extended to primary schools too. Hammond’s decision follows similar steps taken by the Scottish government last year.Source: BBC
Only 2% of cultural sector is made up of 16-19 year olds
Creative & Cultural Skills have released new data that gives a breakdown of the creative landscape, and it makes for interesting reading. Looking at demographics, the report has found that women make up 47% of the creative workforce across the UK, although that number varies depending on location, dropping as low as 40% in Yorkshire and Humber and rising to 51% in Scotland. IT also found that only 2% of cultural sector is comprised of 16-19 year olds compared to 3.2% in the wider working population.
On the subject of pay, the research seemed to buck the notion that the creative industry is low paid. Instead, it found that your pay compared to other industries depends very much on where you live. The average hourly wage for the whole of the UK’s working population is £14.77 an hour, but for the cultural sector it’s £16.48 an hour. In London the average for the cultural sector is £19.48 compared to £18.63 for the rest of the population, but in the North East cultural workers will earn an average of £10.77 while the rest of the population earns an average of £12.96.
UK’s porn block to come into effect in April
On 1 April, UK citizens who wish to watch pornography will be required to either hand over ID or buy a pass from high street shops. The government first announced the plans in 2017 as part of the Digital Economy Act 2017, but it then got delayed multiple times, and it was only in the last week that people realised it was soon to come into effect. The government has said the move is to protect young people from stumbling upon pornography - a noble intention - but its plans have roundly come under criticism for failing to understand how the internet works, and the new risks and problems it will cause.
The block only applies to traditional pornography websites, so social media is excluded. Secondly, because the UK is the only country implementing this ban, anyone who wants to circumvent the block just needs to use a VPN to mask their location. More troublesome is that rather than oversee the ban directly, the government has left it to the industry to come up with a solution. The prominent company with a solution is called MindGeek, who have created AgeID as a way of proving your ID with a credit card or drivers license. They just so happen to also be the owner of the world’s biggest porn sites, and they now have carte blanche to start tracking viewers habits and interests. The government’s own impact assessment also found that the block was likely to push viewers underground and potentially expose them to more illegal and extreme content.
London’s Portrait Gallery declines £1m Sackler Trust grant
London’s National Portrait Gallery has shunned the offer of a £1m gift from the Sackler Trust after growing controversy surrounding their parent company, Purdue Pharma. The Connecticut company is responsible for OxyContin, a prescription painkiller that is said to be killing 100 people in America a day in a growing opioid crisis. Officially, the decision was reached mutually, with the gallery announcing that “the Sackler Trust and the National Portrait Gallery have jointly agreed not to proceed at this time”, and the Sackler Trust additionally releasing a statement saying that “recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work”.
Image: Fran Taylor
Google announced its video game streaming service
Google have announced their vision for the future of gaming with their new service, Google Stadia. Google are continuing to bet big on cloud computing, and have engineered the service to stream video games over the internet to your devices with low latency and up to 4K with 60fps. Stadia will not require a console, and instead will work across mobiles, tablets, computers and even Chromecasts, although iOS devices were conspicuously absent. They also announced a controlled that will automatically sync with whatever game your playing on whatever device, but users will also be free to use their existing Playstation or Xbox controllers. It also integrates tightly with YouTube Gaming and the wider YouTube platform, and also supports Google Assistant.
It's been a poorly kept secret that Google has been working on a video game service. Their rumoured 'Project Yeti’ has been floating around since 2017, and at the end of 2018 they released Project Stream - a limited technical trial where users could stream the latest Assassin's Creed game from inside the Chrome browser.
No pricing was announced, but the service will launch this year.
Apple releases product updates on the down-low
Apple has jumped the gun on their 25 March event (widely expected to focus on their new TV and news subscription services) to give updates to some of their products. The iPad Mini has finally been refreshed with a faster processor and support for the (old) Apple Pencil. They also re-released the iPad Air with the same internals as the Mini, but with a larger screen and the smart connector from the iPad Pro. Apple also updated the processors and GPU’s for iMacs, and lowered the prices for some SSD’s in their computers. Finally the company also refreshed their AirPods, which now come with Siri built in, faster connectivity and an extra hour of talk time. The new AirPods cost £159, or £199 with the new wireless charging case. You can also buy the wireless charging case separately, but that will cost £79.Image: Maurizio Pesce
It might be time for Facebook to just go…
Has there been a week this year where another Facebook story hits the news? Well this week it’s a two-for-one as it was firstly reported that Facebook has been storing passwords for hundreds of millions of users in plain text, meaning they were accessible to up to 20,000 company employees. The company says that there was no sign of abuse, but at least 2,000 Facebook employees searched through the files and it isn’t clear what for. Up to 600 million Facebook product users are believed to have been affected.
That alone is cause for deep concern, but it then broke that Facebook had been aware of concerns over “improper data-gathering practices” by Cambridge Analytica months before The Guardian reported it. This is despite the company stating they learned about the improper data harvesting from the reporting in question. The company now claims that it had heard rumours of data scraping by Cambridge Analytica, but that it was a “different incident” from the widely reported scandal that saw up to 87 million users get their data harvested.
Image: Mike Mozart
Brexit, Brexit, Brexit
It’s all going rather south.
After May’s deal was voted down again, Parliament then voted to rule out a no-deal Brexit, and then voted to extend Article 50. Both were ultimately symbolic in nature as the first necessitates an alternative action (for example, voting for a deal) and the latter required agreement from the EU. It seemed like May was going to put her deal before Parliament for a third time, but the Speaker John Bercow blocked it, citing Parliamentary rules that prevents an amendment or motion that has already been voted on being brought forward again in the same session of Parliament.
May wrote to the EU asking for a three month extension that would see the UK leave on 1 June. After meeting the EU leaders at a Summit on Thursday, they decided to reject her proposal and instead offered two dates. If May fails to get her deal passed in the Commons before 12 April, and no alternative (sensible) proposals are brought forward, then Britain will be leaving with no deal on that date. However, if the deal does somehow make it through Parliament, then we will have until 22 May to implement the required legislation.
Elsewhere, a petition on the Parliament website calling for the government to revoke Article 50 has reached over 3 million signatures in two days at the time of writing, and has been crashing the petitions website repeatedly. Theresa May has already said that she is going to ignore the petition.
I’ve written a full blog post detailing the dramas and likely outcomes this week, which you can read here.
Image: Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916