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History of Jazz by Mary Lou Williams 1979Photo published in Dr....

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History of Jazz by Mary Lou Williams 1979

Photo published in Dr. Alton Merrell’s Music Education Blog

Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture

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koranteng
2 days ago
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Ghanaian shoe seller vows to bring Jammeh to justice

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A Ghanaian seeks justice for his friends who were killed in The Gambia during Yahya Jammeh's rule.
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koranteng
9 days ago
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What’s worse than ID cards? The ID card register without the cards

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A lot of people seem to think the Windrush scandal is an argument for national ID cards, and as a result, the Financial Times ran this collection of four short articles on four different experiences. This includes two European ones that are kind of OK, the disastrous Indian Aadhaar project, and one that hasn’t happened yet, here in the UK. Adam Payne, the author, ends up arguing that we should build a national biometric identity database but not issue the cards.

This is an absolutely terrible idea for several reasons. The first is that it offers all the downsides of compulsory ID without the benefits. If you think that, say, it would help people who are subject to racial discrimination to be able to unambiguously demonstrate their citizenship or immigration status, well, then you need to issue a document they can produce. What if the problematic cop or Jobcentre Plus bod or whoever refuses to check your biometrics, for example?

The second is operational in nature. If you are going to check biometrics against the register, this implies you can only check them on-line – no network, no checks. Alternatively, every agency that might want to do ID checks will have to have a copy of the register at every one of its locations. The former home secretary Charles Clarke once memorably advertised national ID cards on the grounds that you could use them to get a video from Blockbuster. This would imply hundreds of thousands of local register copies sculling about, in which case it will be absolutely certain that copies of it will be lost, stolen, or leaked. It would also be necessary to keep them up to date, not a trivial issue in itself.

Back when we fought and won the campaign against ID cards, the threat of data breaches was something we had to harp on again and again because at the same time it was largely hypothetical. Since 2010, though, we have seen a constant parade of enormous data losses. In the case of Yahoo! in 2014, a billion users’ data was lost. Wikileaks dumped the entire archive of US diplomatic cables. Target lost tens of millions of live credit cards. AshleyMadison let slip who was cheating on who, and ironically enough that it was cheating them. These are just the most outrageous examples. We live in the era of the data breach and it is high time the ID card fans hoisted in that the disasters have happened, that they are a reality.

The loss of a copy would be a serious matter, as just searching it for duplicate biometrics would give away everyone who used more than one name, something which is in fact your legal right. This would be very bad news for people fleeing abusive spouses or families, witnesses in major criminal cases or those threatened by organised crime, transgender individuals, police or security service informants, police or security service officers operating under cover, whistleblowers, journalists and their sources, refugees, and probably some more people I haven’t thought of. Also, if the proposal involves an audit trail of every time the register is accessed, like the original National ID Register, someone obtaining a copy would also know who had been checked at that location and when.

Actually-existing biometric ID systems, like the ones used to control access to data centres or the visas the Home Office actually issues, very rarely work in this way for precisely these reasons. Instead, they verify the fingerprint or iris photo or whatever against data stored on your card, and then verify the cryptographic signature on the card against the card issuer’s public keys. This process can work offline and independently of the central register and in fact doesn’t even need a central register, because it is the signing process itself that provides a guarantee of the card’s authenticity.

I think it is actually fair to say that in NO2ID we were much more vehemently opposed to the register than we were to the cards. If it had only been cards, there might have been something to discuss, although we didn’t trust the government to issue them without also creating a register. But from very early in the process, it was clear that the point was the register and the cards were more of an excuse.

A third problem here is that it is in the very nature of biometric identification that once compromised it is extremely difficult to revoke, because your biometrics are what they are. At least, this is what the theory says – it’s not as good as that in practice. Biometric systems can be spoofed and have been spoofed, and demonstrations of spoofing have been common at hacker events for over a decade. But in some sense that’s a good thing; if there is some noise in the process it’s at least possible to issue a new card that would not be identical with a previous, compromised one. Also, a cardless system is one-factor rather than two-factor authentication; you need only to either sign up with your real biometrics and some other name, or else present someone else’s biometrics. A system with a card requires you to do this and also steal, apply for, or make a valid card.

This brings me to my fourth and final point. The worst thing about this proposal is the insult to the public’s intelligence. The idea is to put over all the same problems the original NIR scheme had, plus some more quite serious ones, and hope nobody notices because they don’t have to carry a card. The only point in its favour is that it might pull the wool over our eyes. This is a good argument for Sir Humphrey Appleby; what a journalist is doing making it, I have no idea.

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koranteng
19 days ago
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Theresa May’s ‘hostile’ environment: straight out of Kafka

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Terrific essay by William Davies in the London Review of Books. Sample:

It is difficult to imagine anything more Kafkaesque than the experience the ‘Windrush generation’ has undergone at the hands of the British state in the past few years. Cases are accumulating of individuals seeking NHS treatment, passports, jobs or housing only to find themselves having to prove their right to live in the country where they have been legally resident for more than 45 years, or risk being deported. Harrowing stories have emerged of individuals being made homeless, jobless and stateless, after they failed to produce proof they were never given in the first place. One man suffered an aneurysm which he believes was brought on by the stress the situation caused him, only to be presented with a bill for £5000 for his NHS treatment – again because his paperwork didn’t measure up – while also losing his job and his home. He was left on the street. As it turns out, the one source of evidence that might have put a stop to this torture – the landing cards that recorded arrivals from the Caribbean until the 1960s – was destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

The Windrush generation’s immigration status should never have been in question, and the cause of their predicament is recent: the 2014 Immigration Act, which contained the flagship policies of the then home secretary, Theresa May. Foremost among them was the plan to create a ‘hostile environment’, with the aim of making it harder for illegal immigrants to work and live in the UK. By forcing landlords, employers, banks and NHS services to run immigration status checks, the policy pushed the mentality of border control into everyday social and economic life. The 2016 Immigration Act extended it further, introducing tougher penalties for employers and landlords who fail to play their part in maintaining the ‘hostile environment’, and adding to the list of privileges that can be taken away from those who cannot prove their right to live and work in the UK.

Another key feature of the 2014 Act was that it empowered the Home Office to deport people more quickly and cheaply, avoiding lengthy and repeated appeals. The ‘deport first, appeal later’ provision was eventually ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. The Act greatly restricted the right to appeal via tribunal, replacing most appeals with an administrative review carried out by the Home Office itself. Before the Act was introduced, 50 per cent of appeals were upheld at tribunal; at administrative review, the figure is 18 per cent.

The more we learn about what has happened to these people, the worse it seems. It demonstrates above all what can happen to a society when a section of it becomes paranoid about immigration.

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koranteng
22 days ago
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Heartland Driving is Good for the Soul

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If you are feeling down, or housebound or just uninspired, there are few better salves than a drive. First, put on comfortable pants. Then get in the car and drive to the nearest highway. Choose any direction; it usually doesn’t matter. Set your cruise control to 65.

After a few minutes, the right angles of your rust belt city will give way to the curves of nature, of rivers and farms. The sky will seem wider, the air fresher. Looking at the rolling fields, I can’t believe that we are free, you will sing to yourself.

You will approach your first great river, and drive across a pea-green bridge that looks as though it was last painted in the Eisenhower Administration. You will grip the wheel until your knuckles whiten, because you hate bridges and high roads. At least there are guardrails, you think, unlike your previous long-distance drive.

Safely over the bridge, the density of buildings begins to drop exponentially. At the same time, the density of pro-Christianity, anti-abortion road signs increases. One telephone pole is posted with JESUS in green letters, and you know it’s meant as a reminder, but you laugh because it seems like an oath: Jesus, you’re going too fast! Oh, Jesus, look what you’ve done! You wonder if there is a linear relationship between distance from a city and the density of such signs.

As the traffic thins, you begin to search the roadside for patches of color and you will immediately feel better when you find them. Dandelions, those dainty suns, decorate cracks in the road. Weeds blend together on medians as you drive past, and seem to paint your path purple. The deep-ocean blue at the top of the sky, glimpsed through your open sunroof, will catch your breath — especially in contrast to the meek cerulean at the horizon. You will note the darkness of the tilled earth behind the fences of farms. You will contrast the chocolatey loam to the sandy, pebble-strewn weedland at the highway’s edge. Such a weird boundary between darkness and light. One patch of planetary crust is empty for now, but on the cusp of genetically modified fullness. The other one is unkempt and untilled but full of life already.

Do insects prefer the weeds, or the crops? You once read something about milkweed along Midwestern highways but you can’t Google it because you’re driving. You wonder if any scientist has ever tracked insect density along highways and compared it to insect density on farms. You wonder how this would affect bat populations, because bats eat insects. What would a bat think of this?

What is it like to be a bat, anyway?

You will want a road snack, so you will stop at a Phillips 66 station in a small town and pick up a large bag of Smartfood. You will grab a bunch of napkins to wipe the Pasteurized Cheese Product from your fingers. Back in the car, you will find a side road that takes you along a horse pasture and choose it instead, because it is prettier than the highway and seems quieter.

Suddenly you will edge to the right, hugging the shoulder, as the silver cylinder of a dairy truck bears down on you. It will shove air ahead of itself and toward your sunroof, which will emit a terrible PHOMP and pop your ears. You will be annoyed by this intrusion of industrialized agriculture.

In a moment, you will realize that your podcast is really distracting you from the view, so you turn off the political bros and watch the scenery. You are driving along a white picket fence, and behind it you can see a hill and a wood-sided church facing south, and the church has a tall white steeple. It is almost too much, practically a Rockwell painting. You look to the right and notice a grove of trees lining the highway, a windbreak for the ranch.

A minute later you will come upon the horses. A dozen of them stand tanly, necks bent to the clover, which is mottled with dark purple flowers. You wonder if those are the same purple-flowered weeds that populate your lawn. Too bad you don’t have a horse who could eat them. You wonder how much it costs to own a horse. You start thinking about what you would name your horse. Rusty. That’s a good horse name.

On the way back home you will take the river road, and you won’t see any horses. You will see houses on stilts, ready to ride out the seasonal flood of the continent’s mightiest waters. You will see a vulture in flight and you will worry it is an omen.

You will drive through a tiny village with a playground and a general store and little else, and stop to take a photo of the road sign for the next village. The next village is called Time (pop. 22) and if you turn right you might reach it. You might visit its bandstand and shuttered schoolhouse, and think about why mid-19th-century white Americans would name a town Time, and think about time and why it moves too quickly and only goes in one direction, and think about the direction your own life has taken and what forks in the road await you, and get back in your car and drive south until you reach the Mississippi River and its absurd hugeness. You will cross the big bridge and look left toward the locks. You will think about how much you miss driving on roads flanked by mountains instead.

Later that night you will think about how you have resented the heartland’s politics, its parochialism. But you will also remember the soft sky, the chocolatey loam, and think, not for the first time, This is why people stayed here. You will remember the dual meaning of the word heartland, a meaning you have disliked, but you will think, maybe for the first time, that it’s a good meaning. Heartland driving is good for the soul.

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koranteng
23 days ago
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Britain’s Debt to the Windrush Generation

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Some seventy years after the first arrivals of immigrants from Jamaica, the “Windrush generation” has returned to the center of attention in Britain—not this time in a spirit of optimism and hope but of hurt and anger. The Caribbean-born children of those who came to England in the 1950s and 1960s are now threatened with dispossession, even deportation. Despite their having lived in the UK for decades, working and paying taxes, many of these black Britons lack the paperwork to prove their immigration status—thanks to a very British bureaucratic anomaly. As a result, many have lost jobs, as well as access to benefits and healthcare; some face losing their residency rights.
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koranteng
31 days ago
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