Sunday, August 27, 2006

Brown is the colour

Once the comedy throw away line, 'Is it cos' I is brown' was positioned as exposing simplistic views of racism. However, it looks like racial profiling could be the start of infringement of human rights or direct alienation.

Is such profiling viable? Interestingly, security experts are warning that such an approach would be very labour intensive, expensive and not guaranteed to succeed.

'I'm a white, 62-year-old, 6ft 4in suit-wearing ex-cop - do I really fit the profile of a suicide bomber?' former Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens said.

I believe that any type of profiling is going to lead to an element of alienation!
I am appalled by the recent behaviour of over 140 passengers, flight crew and the Spanish police authorities - when last weekend two men of Asian appearance were forced off a charter flight because fellow passengers refused to fly with them. Has everyone forgotten that it was a white Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airliner using explosives hidden in his shoe. What about Timothy James McVeigh? He was convicted of eleven federal offenses and ultimately executed as a result of his role in the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The bombing, which claimed 168 lives, is considered the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in U.S. history to date. NB He was of white skin.

It has been suggested that a way to improve a profiling procedure is to have checks made closer to the departure gate rather than at a centralised system at the entrance to the concourse. Maybe the theory is that greater behavioural variance by potential suspectwill occur the closer he/she gets closer to board the plane?

A system of ‘positive profiling’ has been suggested, i.e.: based on behaviour not ethnicity.

British Home Secretary John Reid has said that profiling would vet passengers before they arrive at the airport and cross-reference their personal details with those on terror watch lists or who display unusual behaviour. The ‘positive’ side refers to the plan to use iris or fingerprint scans to quickly identify people whom intelligence officers have cleared for fast-track travel, such as frequent business travelers, sparing them the long lineups, searches and customs inquiries other passengers will still face. Critics have pounced on the notion of profiling passengers, saying it amounts to racial and religious segregation that will do more harm than good.

Maybe one approach is improved investment into technology to decipher the contents of luggage? A simple suggestion is to ask more pertinent questions at check-in – understanding the reason for visits and obtaining written declarations to support travel.

To me it looks like there is little difference between positive profiling and racial profiling - they are literally too close for comfort? For example, would profiling only 'judge' those with Asian based names?! Therefore, there is a danger of abuse and simply missing the true cowardly suspects.

We need to remember that there are so many cultural differences between the 6 Billion of us! What will profiling ‘scouts’ or ‘scanners’ be looking for considering that we all come to this Earth in all shapes and sizes. Victimisation based on colour/creed must be avoided else we are another step closer to polarisation of communities.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Perpetuating Rubbish

I wasn’t sure if I should call this article / posting: ‘I’m so glad that Big Brother is over’ or perpetuating rubbish’

Big Brother was conceived by John de Mol - a Dutch media tycoon and billionaire. In 2005 Forbes magazine stated that he was one of the 500 richest people in the world. The Show’s name comes from George Orwell’s 1949 novel 1984. In the book Big Brother is positioned as the all-seeing leader of the dystopian (authoritarian or totalitarian form of government) Oceania.

I personally still have not fully understood the attraction of this programme. Maybe the following can help regarding why I believe people watch Big Brother.

1. Some people are bored and want to see a reflection of themselves on TV
2. Reality TV brings home an element of real-life
3. The public make the stars! (e.g; Dragons Den & The Apprentice)
4. Some people believe that their lives are sad and actively seek glamour
5. Escapism is what life is really what all about
6. Conditioning by the media
7. Forced subversive fascination based on topical life discussions
8. Fear of alienation
9. Conditioned to watch a grey box on return from watching a grey box at the office.
10. Today’s media has nothing better to do than to perpetuate endless stories of lust, image, distraction, false-fame and wasted energy.

Maybe I’m being unkind and serious psychologists probably view such programmes as part of some ‘great human experiment’. Maybe some people are fascinated by the interplay for example, positioning, greed, envy and alienation by the housemate. Does this mean if the world ended tomorrow, so would any form of descency ?

One could argue that today our behaviour as a society is not so different from the actions of the housemate – Our neighbours starve, yet we stare into our TV’s escaping the reality of what is around us.

We need to consider who are the people making real money on Reality TV programmes – at our expensive.I suggest that they are:

- TV Producers / Co’s – typically reality TV development & idea costs are low
- Communication companies – Mobile / telephone airtime operators
- The Press – Selling stories

Post show, many of the exhouse mates return to their previous lives – it almost appears that their limited exposure to possible fame and fortune is based on ‘sucking out’ their goodness and then leaving them on the wayside.

My biggest issue is with the impact that these programmes have on children and what they can potentially absorb as being acceptable socially.

Just as one reality TV programme came to an end, another won appeared - The X-Factor returned to screens the next day. NB The public amassed in their hundreds of thousands to seek a short-cut to stardom.

I’m now left to conclude that Reality TV is a bit like gardening or weeding - you pull out one weed and then more appear! It’s up to us to decide what is beautiful and not corrupt our society.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

57 channels and there is nothing on

Bruce Springsteen once wrote a song called : 57 channels and there is nothing on.
One of the most interesting verses is:

Well now home entertainment was my baby's wish
So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond
There's fifty-seven channels and nothin' on

I felt a similar emotion during the last 2 weeks when I was over in the USA.
Instead, where I was staying I had probably over 150 channels to choose from. Honestly, there was literally not much on.

When I opened the newspaper each morning I searched high and low for World news – Unfortunately, time and time again I was affronted with just two pages – and most of that was occupied by the awful situation in the Middle East. I felt that my channels of communication had been restricted – my only avenue of seeking more information was to resort to the Internet and its associated channels.

If we consider that the definition of ‘channel’ as being the medium used to convey information from a sender (or transmitter) to a receiver. Taking this definition one step further we have: Simplex – one definition suggests that this type of communication is one where all signals can flow in only one direction. Half Duplex allows communications in both directions, but only one direction at a time (not simultaneously). Duplex allows communication in both directions and unlike half-duplex allows this to happen simultaneously.

In the context of how humans communicate or are forced to conform with, the advent of the Internet has brought about an irony – selective communication – for example recently both Google and Microsoft have been accused of restricting selective content to Chinese users of their services. Blogging (individual web-logs or online journals) is now a new industry – consider that in 2002 only 200,000 Blogs existed, now over 30 Million Blogs are available (how many remain active is another topic/question). If the Internet has the power to give anyone (let us put the digital divide situation on the side for a second) to get online and express their opinion then a positive consensus on issues should emerge.

I believe that my reliance on the Internet is probably under threat. Already media corporations are commissioning ‘their’ own Blogger’s and associated resources – maybe to ensure opinions are consistent and advertisers are ‘eyeing’ up the potential for product positioning. The need for interactivity (2 way communication) is what the Internet has morphed into, yet this communication will be restricted as world paranoia continues.

The Internet is a place that has the potential to bring the world together, instead inappropriate content is rampant, vandals seek to damage websites, children are threatened and identities can be compromised.

The so called ‘Myspace’ generation maybe at ease with the social networking technology that is now available. However, an opportunity to debate on world issues appears a far of priority. I noticed the BBC’s recent subtle approach on engaging with the public on issues of the day – through emails etc. However, programming for ethnic / communities is still established at the midnight hour!?

In the advent of new satellite channels coming to the fore – I hope it will not be in the vain - as I saw recently on one channel that simply shows someone’s home wedding video in the hope that it is providing quality content and entertainment - maybe the joke is on us!!

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Monday, August 07, 2006

We need more Peace Corps

I'm currently in the US after a visiting gap of 5 years! We all know that the USA clean in an almost clinical nature. Supermarkets are overwelming in terms of the abundance of food and the choice in consumer goods and credit (!) is unbelievable.

The other evening I attended a dinner at a Dr's house. She has been pioneering in the field of public broadcasting, a successful doctor and someone who has developed over 18 years of exceptional content for the Sikh community.

I also met one of her nieces who had just returned from Kenya as part of a Peace Corps assignment. The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when the then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship. Since that time, more than 182,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited by host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation. My understanding is that they also celebrate their 45th Anniversary year.

The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:

* Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
* Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
* Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

The girl that I met had spent a year in the outback. Intrigued I dived in with lots of questions (NB Q & A Paraphrased/summarised)

Q: What did you do there?
A: I worked on an Aids education programme

Q: How did you prepare for the assignment?
A: The Peace Corps trained me which included learning two languages as they could not converse in English at all there.

Q: How bad is the problem of Aids in Africa?
A: It is serious. Children are left to fend for themselves.

Q: What was it like?
A: The village folk have no shoes so when the see your shoes or a watch they are amazed.

Q: What do people live on? Do they rely on local produce alone?
A: Yes, they are far away from any commercial towns/cities so they survive on what they grow.

Q: What is the reason for the spread of Aids?
A: It is the way that women are treated and the casuality of relationships. Education is what is needed.

Q: How did you cope - say with basics like keeping in touch, cleaning and the Internet!
A: Once a week I would head to the city. Over the year that I was there I had to use a bucket bath system.

At the end of the discussion she said she wanted to go back to meet her friends in the village.

It was good to see this selfless act of service, something we can all learn from.

The world is full of inequalities yet the majority of us standby and watch. I really wish there was more funds available from our community to set-up such initiatives.

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