Tuesday, 30 June 2015

An Existential Threat or Cameron's Political Scaremongering ?

The terror attacks which took place last Friday have, understandably, produced a sense of shock and horror around the world. 

Any attack which leads to the deaths of innocent people is condemned by the majority of ordinary people as disgusting and preposterous and the nearer to "home" that these deaths are, in general, affect the level of condemnation.

The decapitated head of the manager of a US owned transportation company was found near Lyon in France, along with banners said to be bearing Islamic writing. French investigators have said that there are links between the man who did this and Islamic State militants.
Soon after that, a bomb ripped through the Al - Sadiq mosque in Kuwait's capital city during Friday prayers, killing 27 people and injuring over 200 others. An affiliate of the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility and the suicide bomber identified as a Saudi citizen who had arrived in Kuwait that morning.

Then came the news that a gunman had shot numerous people on a tourist beach in Sousse, Tunisia, killing at least 38 people and injuring 39 others before being shot dead by the police outside the hotel. IS has also claimed responsibility for this attack. 

The so called "Islamic State" claiming responsibility for all these attacks shows that there is a strategy which is not just about fighting in the Middle East but about bringing the war into Europe. By stating that the Tunisia attacks were in response to the coalition's current involvement in Iraq and Syria, we can realistically conclude that the underlying responsibility lies with those who have continued with more than a decade of invasion, bombings and occupation of Middle East countries, including Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. The civil war in Syria has added to the growth of  IS and other terrorist groups as well as the bombing of Libya and the sectarian tensions caused by the US in Iraq.

The Government's "Prevent" strategy is aimed at stopping more people getting drawn towards and involved with violent extremism, but clearly is failing in it's purpose. It has it seems,  become counter - productive and appears to many as a means of spying on and reporting people for acts and opinions that were never intended to be racist or extremist, regardless of whether the person is Muslim or otherwise. 
For David Cameron to describe the threat of terrorism in Britain as an "existential threat" is therefore, absurd.

Because I am British I naturally have an affinity with what happens to other British people and that the Tunisian attack involved so many British victims affects me more than the attack in Kuwait, or the beheading in France. But to suggest that our very existence in this country is at risk is surely at best exagerration  and at worst scare tactics of the lowest order. 
It doesn't take much thinking to realise that Cameron's Government objective is the censoring of "free speech" and the pushing through of laws against "extremism" that were not so many weeks ago deemed to be an infringement of liberty and unworkable. 

While the government tries to distinguish between "non violent extremists" and "violent extremists", we try to uphold the notion of  British Values - though regardless of race, religion or culture, we can't seem to define simply.

Reasonable people want to live in a reasonable world where threats to our safety and chosen lifestyle are minimal. 
Suggesting that our existence is threatened is not likely to foster a feeling of safety or freedom, values that everyone wants to live within. 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Bio - metrics : machine v man in an airport queue

Arriving at Manchester Airport recently to re - enter England / United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland / European Union I was faced with the option of the two queues for passport control  - EU or Non EU

My passport looks like this and so I do know that I am classed as EU (despite having 2 conversations in the streets in Istanbul about what type of money do the British use here. It seems that many non EU citizens believe that we use the Euro ) 
I have travelled within the EU using this newly issued passport, but had not taken much notice of the symbol of the bio metric facility on it (despite being informed by my daughter and fellow travellers last year)     ePassport gates are automated, where a passport reader and camera, rather than a border officer - in theory -  verifies your identity and checks your ‘chipped’ passport. To use the ePassport gates, you must have a ‘chipped’ biometric UK, EU, EEA or Swiss passport. These ePassports have the biometric logo on the front cover.

Seeing that the e-gates queue appeared longer than the other queue, I duly took my place in line to shuffle back and forth between the queue poles 
 strategically placed to ensure that we all walk the longest possible distance over the relatively small area of floor space.

"To help speed up your time at passport control, there are now ePassport gates at all major airports in the UK.
The gates use facial recognition technology to compare your face to the photograph recorded on the ‘chip’ in your passport. Once the check is made successfully, the gate opens automatically for you to walk through ", says the official information at HM Passport Office  

I took the opportunity to scrutinise the procedure of the e- gate during the 45 minutes it took 'my' queue to move along.

It seemed initially that yes, the e queue was moving most quickly. It did not operate solely without officers though, and one in particular spent his time marching up and down telling people to please watch the videos while queueing on how to use the facilities, enabling faster and easier processing. By my calculations the processing took about 4/5 minutes per person with around 1 in 5 people being sent to an officer at another desk when their details or whatever were not compliant with the bio metric information. If I was a mathematician, which it's  well known that I'm not, I could provide the stats on this to show which queue was indeed the most efficient. But my gut feeling tells me that the man behind the desk is more efficient and certainly more 'people friendly', though that is obviously not the intention of the technology.

In information technology, biometrics refers to technologies that measure and analyze human body characteristics, such as DNA, fingerprints, eye retinas and irises, voice patterns, facial patterns and hand measurements, for authentication purposes.


The several types of biometric identification schemes include :

face: the analysis of facial characteristics
fingerprint: the analysis of an individual's unique fingerprints
hand geometry: the analysis of the shape of the hand and the length of the fingers
retina: the analysis of the capillary vessels located at the back of the eye
iris: the analysis of the colored ring that surrounds the eye's pupil
signature: the analysis of the way a person signs his name.
vein: the analysis of pattern of veins in the back if the hand and the wrist
voice: the analysis of the tone, pitch, cadence and frequency of a person's voice.

Many believe that biometrics will play a critical role in future computers, and especially in electronic commerce. Personal computers of the future might include a fingerprint scanner where you could place your index finger. The computer would analyze your fingerprint to determine who you are and, based on your identity, authorize you different levels of access Access levels could include the ability to use credit card information to make electronic purchases (Some of these, if not all are no doubt in operation now)

I'm all for advancement in technology for the amazing benefits that it bring to us as humans. As long as the benefits really are for mankind and not for power and surveillance reasons only. The time for the chip in our forehead which takes away the need for any card, cash or even social communication as we have known it is becoming ever closer. 
Who knows whether this is advancement or not ? 

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Change - Created by the Unreasonable Man ?

How do those of us who try to embrace a philosophy of doing what we believe to be good/right deal with the anger and despair that we feel over the injustices all around us?

Would you rather give the world a hug, or a slap in the face? Would you rather get up there and battle, or leave it alone for the sake of a peaceful life?

I am sure that many of us can relate to this. It isn’t just my worry, it’s a human question. 
We all fight with our anger over issues in our own lives as well as in the wider world. Often, it leads us to the depths of despair and we feel any effort on our part is futile. So we give up.
But anger is a powerful emotion, and when it is channeled properly, it can be a force used to positive affect. Rather than ranting at the world – or worse, allowing the anger to destroy us inside by keeping it hidden, we need to find a way to use it and work for change. 

"The reasonable man attempts to adapt himself to the world and the unreasonable man attempts to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all change is created by the unreasonable man" . George Bernard Shaw

The comment is clearly a viable one - but does this persuade anyone to NOT try to change things? Conversely, does it make us want to change even more, just for the hell of it? Maybe some of us don't want anything at all to change, so do not need to consider. "The terror of change has been exceeded by the terror of remaining the same " said someone at a conference on teamwork, that I was at once.
Perhaps it's unreasonable to want to change things for the betterment of society. And selfish to want to leave things as they are, because it's 'comfortable' to do so. And who is to say what the betterment of society is? It's a bit of a subjective subject ! I wonder if "doing good" is also a selfish notion, as it makes us feel better ? I have always struggled with this, and the response from my staunch Methodist father was that "God knows who is acting for themselves and who is loving their neighbour". Sound advice to a believer, but not so easily taken in by someone with no religious faith.

So, I have to conclude that it's a personal thing, which no one can advise on or give suggestions on, but ourselves. In other words it's about conscience. What our conscience makes us do or not do might bring harsh words from others with differing views. If I have someone say that I was being hypocritical, in my views - the one thing I strive against constantly - I used to be devastated, but not any more.  Only I know the truth behind my thinking and actions. 
And only you know yours.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

One Thumb Is All You Need

So, just when I decided that it's time I really ought to get back to using a pen or pencil instead of a keyboard constantly, I find this function on my phone.

Whether it's been available all the time I've had the phone or if it's a new thing, I don't know, but I do know that it's a lot easier and quicker than the memo facility and, whilst there is definitely something to the feel of writing on paper- especially brand new paper and I've got a beautiful new notebook that is crying out to be used -  needs must, as they say and my old age and the conditions it brings with it mean that using one thumb as opposed to a whole hand is a more pleasurable experience.  

I understand that I can write, edit, save and share whether online or not so have visions of me tapping out my next best seller (next ??) while sat on a beach, on top of a mountain, in the woods, on a boat ( not likely) or wherever I happen to be when the muse hits me. Yes, I am expecting it to hit me again sometime very soon. The risk of losing my notes somewhere is lessened and though the risk of losing my phone is always "Category High" my manuscripts will be safe as they will have been sent to some other device in a different location. Magic.

The test of the real benefit of my findings this morning will be if I manage to send this to anywhere else successfully. If you are reading this somewhere other than on my phone then I reckon this is my most useful find this week. And it's only Tuesday, so who knows what I'll be doing by Friday ?


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Can We Tell What He Is Yet ?

It's difficult - nay, impossible - to comment about some one and their actions without mentioning their name.

In most situations, whether celebratory or distasteful, it is my belief that to name the subject and also provide a picture of that person is both necessary and useful (unless of course by doing so an innocent person is upset or potentially harmed by doing so)

In this case, the person I am talking about is the convicted paedophile and  so - called "celebrity" currently serving a prison sentence for his crimes - Rolf Harris.

There,  I have written his name once but do not intend to repeat it here or post a photograph. My reason for this is that whilst in no way am I personally involved, I feel let down, tricked and disgusted by this man, as do many of my generation and later generations and do not wish to promote him in any way.

In 1968, when I was 10/11 years old I went to the Sunderland Empire with my older sister to watch a show by this man, an artist, singer, dancer, comedian, musician and all round "entertainer", +especially where children were concerned.  I remember clearly his impressive painting on stage of "Sun Arise" and the accompanying song with digeridoo.
The  haunting song"Two Little Boys"  was sung along with a poignant story about where he had first heard it. I was mesmerised and bought the single of it for 6/6  (6 shillings and sixpence) as soon as I could and played it over and over on the record player.

I watched him on the  TV  Palladium shows and later on his children's shows. Later still with my own children, we watched Cartoon Club and Animal Hospital. This man seemed truly genius and one with an open and honest heart for everyone.
When all the allegations came to light and turned out to be true, it was difficult to believe. Abuse against girls as young as seven seems incredulous. How could this be right after all these years of supposedly good work and entertainment? There must have been some mistake, surely. But there was no mistake and now while he is in prison, it appears that he shows no remorse whatsoever and has sent a letter to a friend detailing a song he has written, castigating his victims even more which he says he will record "the moment I get out", "towards the end of 2017".

He obviously thinks his release is not in question and even tells of how his time in Stafford prison is "no hardship"  and that he is basically "doing what he wants".

How very sad that this is the society that we live in and that such people live amongst us. Another memory from childhood that shows how easily we can be duped by those whose influences seem to make them exempt from retribution.

The full story can be read  Here

Monday, 1 June 2015

I have always classed myself as a Jack of All Trades (never mind the "master of none" bit)

Mindfulness - the New Capitalist Spirituality ?

Since coming across this article in   The Guardian's "Long Read"  my mind has  been full of the issues it raises- so to spe...