Monday, September 26, 2005

Are you an e-Citizen?

This year Bill Gates, one of the founders of modern Information Technology applications celebrates 30th years in business Maybe this article should really read Microsoft celebrates 30 years in business.Here are some facts about the company, a company that started originally started out as a two-person set-up based in Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Mircosoft today….
Head Quarters: Redmond, Washington (I’ve actually had a chance to visit and the firm is a city within a city, employing thousands of employees). Sales: $36bn (2004), Profits: $8.2bn (2004). Worldwide Staff: 57,000, Founded: 1975, Chairman: Bill Gates with Chief executive: Steven Ballmer

There clearly is no doubt that this organisation, regardless of any views of: accused monopolies/ market dominance and personal views on the quality of their products – have delivered and continue to give us power to our fingertips! Although rivals are threatening the market with cheaper bundles of software and different operating systems, Microsoft’s products are still trusted and relied on. In 30 years they have changed the landscape of Information Technology.

The Internet has also ushered massive change in the way we deliver and receive information and the way we do business. Who would have thought back in the mid 80s and early 90s that route planners, buying books online, web-cams and music downloads to portable music devices would be second knowledge to many.

However, with all this power at our discretion, do we truly know how to use it to its full potential? Do we spend more time formatting a document rather than focusing on the quality of the content we have to produce. Does this lead to inefficiencies ? More importantly have we instead created a society of those that can connect and enjoy the Internet age and those that will never get any opportunities to reap its potential returns?

In September (05) the British Computer Society (BCS) launched a new campaign to encourage people who feel intimidated by computers to get online and start experiencing the numerous benefits the Internet offers: From booking flights and accommodation to finding cheaper mortgages and home insurance. The Society’s ‘Keep Up’ campaign aims to tackle the digital divide between those who can access the internet competently and a significant minority who simply do not know how and face being excluded from our internet dominated age.

To complement the campaign, the BCS’s e-Citizen qualification will be available in colleges and training centres throughout the country to teach Internet-novices how to surf the World Wide Web, to shop, bank, book a holiday, email friends and stay safe online. i.e: The essential elements to becoming a 21st century e-Citizen. Courseware is now available to help. The BCS is giving away a ‘Keep Up’ fact sheet outlining ten ways to explore the internet safely with top tips on shopping online, banking and emailing. The BCS (UK) can be contacted on 0845 300 4417 to obtain a free copy. The course is also part of and endorsed by the European Computer Driving License Foundation (ECDL)

You can also buy a copy of the step-by-step approved eCitizen course from Knowledge Hemispheres (020 8568 5757). This course is available either as a interactive, simulation based CD (£20) or in the form of a self-study guide / Manual. (£14). Education centres can also draw down government funding to support those that wish to take the course.

At least there is an understanding that the potential digital divide needs to be confronted, such initiatives can certainly help to close the gap between the haves and the have nots - both nationally and internationally.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Arms Unfair

In today’s world of contradictions we do not need a steady reminder of such double standards. The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) last week revealed that it invited China, subject to an EU arms embargo, to shop for weapons at Europe's largest arms fair known as: Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi). The fair opened at London’s Excel centre on Tuesday 13th September. Amazingly and with a sign that there is some hope, during weekending 9th September, Prime Minister Tony Blair told journalists in Beijing that the world ‘held a question mark’ over China's human rights record. It is important to note that UK arms export rules prohibit arms exports to countries where they could be used for human rights abuse or to fuel conflict.

The list of official invitations to the MOD-organised arms fair was finally published on Sunday 11th September The government has previously refused campaigners' requests for the list to be published, citing 'security reasons'.

The government also invited 7 countries from the UK Foreign Office's own list of the world's 20 top human rights abusers.

These include:
• Indonesia: not invited since 1999 due to the ongoing conflicts in Aceh and Papua, where Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented ongoing cases of ‘extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence and destruction of property’ by the Indonesian military in 2004-5, and the Foreign Office recently reported ‘army attacks on villagers in the Papuan highlands’

• Colombia: where the UK Foreign Office reported in July that ‘members of the Colombian security forces collude with the paramilitaries and are involved in drug trafficking’, and the ongoing conflict has forced an estimated 3 million people from their homes.

• Saudi Arabia: the third-largest recipient of UK arms exports, where Amnesty International last year reported an escalation of ‘killings by security forces and armed groups...’

Libya (subject to an EU arms embargo until last year) and Iraq have also received invitations for the first time. This apparently goes against the policy of the United States, who are unwilling to heavily arm Iraq's military for fear of the weapons being used against US forces.

What is the point of European and UK arms control rules if such trade fairs are allowed to take place. Is it not another case of trade and finance taking priority over human suffering? Ironically, Tony Blair will be pushing for weapons trade controls at the UN World Summit but unfortunately his defence ministers would have already welcomed the world's arms dealers and human rights abusers to do business!

DSEi organisers, Spearhead Spokesperson suggested the following: 'It is like any other trade exhibition. It is like the motor show in Birmingham or exhibitions at Earls Court. This happens to be for the defence industry.’

Hey! We all know that cars can kill and can damage the environment but I’m sure you will agree that Apache fighter jets, landmines and cluster bombs are lethal and more harmful to civilians. In a world of double standards we should expect a stronger commitment to human rights from our leaders. Not a backhand policy of supporting such abuse?

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Are you looking to the left or the right? It really doesn’t matter!

What is it about political agendas that suddenly appear confusing? For example, take a look at the proposed budget plans of the US Administration and the media reporting of their implications. Some Republicans (US) have suggested that Bush’s stance of tax cuts for the rich will enable entrepreneurs to help generate more jobs. Yet, opponents argue that this policy fails to provide help where it is needed. The following line is particularly ‘cutting’: Hurricane Katrina has blown away the veil of poverty that exists in the South today’.

Data from the US Census Bureau shows that more people are struggling just to make ends meet.
The nation’s poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent of the population last year, the fourth consecutive annual increase. Overall, there were 37 million people living in poverty [in 2004], up 1.1 million people from 2003…The last decline in overall poverty was in 2000, when 31.1 million people lived under the threshold — 11.3 percent of the population.

Another suggestion is that the Bush administration had been ineffective in its response to planning against the Katrina disaster. Alternative viewpoints suggest that know one considered that the New Orleans levees would be compromised. However, Democrats searching for a way to blame President Bush for Hurricane Katrina are circulating a report that claims the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq war drained funding from New Orleans flood-control projects. Currently Michael Moore, the renowned documentary maker is considering making a film about this whole awful episode.

Statistical results on Bush’s popularity reveals that he is dropping in popularity stakes. Although many suggest that this may recover in time for next years mid-term elections.

My other concern is the way that people are being treated. Reports suggest that the process of handcuffing and gun pointing are being used as a way of evacuating the city of New Orleans. Is this an implication that those that remaining are holding out in some kind of civil war of ownership? Or, are these tactics being used as a last resort? Whatever happened to treating people with humanity? Whatever your political persuasion we must agree that everyone is entitled to dignity. These people have lost everything and deserve better.

The aim of this article is not be critical. As I commented during my previous column (Katrina hits Hard w/e: 9th September), people need help now without the consideration of cost. It is good that the Bush administration have committed large funds running into the billions. But we need communities to be closer to how these funds will be channeled.

With many homeless now temporarily residing in surrounding US states, some reports show that communities are getting closer together, removing race and financial barriers. This is a lesson for what we could do worldwide for each other.

It really should not matter if you are looking to either the east or west, left or right, we have to agree with one fundamental thought – We are one world and there is a desperate need to recognize the human race as one.

Maybe we need a new kind of politics. Not one that blames each other or sits on chosen political bleachers / stands. Instead it aims to work on a concept of collaborative communities working towards common good. We need new innovative ways of organizing ourselves, to remove complex layers with priorities centred on the value of life not capitalist drivers.

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina hits hard

One day in New Orleans the sweet sound of Jazz must have been in the air the next day unfortunate devastation took a hold all around. It appears that the rich had evacuated earlier but double-digit groups of thousands were left stranded in areas such as airports, the superbowl/arena, the streets, and outside public institutions

It was also concerning to see the desperate depths that people went to in attempts survive through a routes of aggressive actions against each other! It is unfortunate that it took so long for any form of relief logistics with associated supplies to reach the thousands that needed it.

.As the relief effort continues it is worth considering both what lead to this disaster and the possible aftermath unless investment is channelled correctly and in parallel.

Officials have said that 20% of the 500,000 residents of New Orleans live on or below the poverty line, or are elderly and sick. They have been described as the low mobility population. These issues have been raised in the past but the result has been silence. In both 2000 and 2005, disaster plans had been prepared but apparently know one thought that the leeves (city protective areas) would be holed. These levees were supposed to protect New Orleans but when compromised they sent millions of litres of water cascading through the streets, putting some 80 percent of the city under water. Its important to note that although know one expected this compromise, budget cuts to the city’s defenses by successive administrations in Washington appeared to have compounded the problem. In 2004 Army engineers sought $105m for hurricane and flood programmes in New Orleans – The Whitehouse slashed the request to $42.5m. The funding dry-up resulted in no investment for shelters and halted maintenance work to the city’s east bank leeves for the first time in 37 years.

Now New Orleans is overrun with dirty water but it is important to note that it is also probably contaminated by waste and chemicals. Fires continue to rage. The environmental impact of Katrina is likely to be severe. Hurricanes usually leave some imprint on the environment long after they dissipate, such as eroded beaches and flattened trees.

It also appears that the water will need to be pumped out but where to? If it is pumped back into the Gulf of Mexico, it may take with it higher concentrations of toxins, as it may not be treated first. The impact on wildlife should be considered.

From an economic perspective, Hurricane Katrina may hit the US economy much harder than past experience predicts, because of the damage it appears to have inflicted on the US oil production and refining industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Uncertainty about just how severe this damage is makes any assessment of the economic consequences of Katrina difficult, but there are certainly some disturbing statistics. The Gulf of Mexico is crucial to US energy supplies and accounts for nearly 30 per cent of US offshore crude oil production and nearly half of its refinery capacity.

At this time we need to think and deliver solutions both for the people in immediate dire need and for the aftermath. A multi-faceted approach is needed where disease must not take hold, rash decisions on environmental issues must not be made and no thought on money saving should be made, instead we need to bring life back to New Orleans. Let us pray for those that are no longer with us and give hope to those that need it now – for their present and our mutual future.

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