Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Paranoid Anti-Terrorism Advert Banned

Who comes up with these ideas? Oh right, people who have their own community somewhere else.
In the advert, a man says: "The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself.

"He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route."

It then says: "If you suspect it, report it."

The whole disruptive and insidious nature of Acpo is pretty revealing:
"sometimes what appeared to be an insignificant behaviour could potentially be linked to terrorist activities".

...or, in other words, any non-agreed behaviour is suspicious. Anything that we've decided might be suspicious today should be reported. You can't have a community if you're all dead.

Good on those who reported this advert. If this kind of claptrap paranoid propaganda doesn't count as "anti-social", I don't know what does.

ASBOs: The Next Generation

Been on holiday, so just catching up with Theresa May's speech on anti-social behaviour and where the coalition Tories are driving ASBOs next. It's worth a read - there's a lot of good rhetoric in there. Which, on the flipside, throws the proposed measures into a rather lacklustre light in comparison.

On the one hand, it's hard not to agree with the sentiment that localism is key to addressing the anti-social culture. Indeed, this blog would argue that centralism and unquestionable power inevitably leads to a notion of discontent and delinquency. "If I can't control it, no-one can." Perhaps this imbalance of control and expectation over young people extends to far more corners than we would care to own up to.

So moving power and responsibility (the two can't be separated in this case if we're to take the subject seriously) to citizens must be a part of the solution. But here we must be careful. One set of citizens having "power" over another set of citizens is the status quo - don't be confused by the shiny cars or black uniforms. Delinquency comes about through prejudiced exclusion in the first place. Cause and effect are the same thing.

So saying that young people "want to make something of their lives, and we have to help them do so" is a good start. The problem is defining what that something is for them. Money is not always a good motivator.

Saying that it's about "encouraging young people to take responsibility for their communities" is a good start. That "the National Citizen Service will help" achieve this makes me wary. Young people in particular are wary of any central banner - because with banners come stipulations. Young people should not be "sponsored" in order to feel like citizens.

Then there's the usual gumpf about alcohol, and it's depressing to see no change in attitude here. Yes, alcohol is a catalyst - an excuse - for much unruly behaviour. But it's also far too easy a target. Blaming alcohol is like blaming video games for violent behaviour. With greater punishment for those providing alcohol, expect even more paranoia against this "ASBO Fuel" and even less understanding of how to enjoy it, rather than abuse it.

Finally, May wants to citizens "hold the police to account by publishing detailed local crime data and mandating regular beat meetings". Besides being bemused at the idea of "beat meetings", I wonder about the general move towards splitting the accountability of the police to "citizens", but mandating yet more initiatives on how this accountability is to be carried out. If citizens are to really work better with the police, shouldn't the extent and methodology of this feedback be up to them?

There are some interesting opportunities here - for young people. I've seen young people generally put together a more cogent and coherent argument than their elders, and demonstrate some very real grips on the world around them. That they have few enough outlets for this astuteness is, IMHO, part of the problem, of course. But a move towards "localism", combined with some shrewdness, could provide a route for this cunning in a way not thought of.

Are young people in a better position, for instance, to take up gripes with the increasing "anti-socialness" of ubiquitous urban advertising, say? Or the rise of chain stores? Or the removal of green spaces? Or how about loud, drunken businessmen on trains? Or people who are old enough to drink but apparently not to know better than throwing up in a children's playground?

There are a lot more instances of "anti-social" behaviour than those under 25 can take credit for. May doesn't seem to realise that delinquency is not part of the detachment of young people - it is part of the detachment of all of us, just as we like to judge each other for doing the exact same thing. It is a general unease and disatisfaction, one which young people merely have the energy to express with so much more gusto.

I have faith in the next generation. They can show us how to behave better, how to care about the world around them, and for themselves. But even with the grand rhetoric of May's speech, they're going to have to fight to do it.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

School pictures in the Modern Era

Class Portraits is a series of classic class photographs in which the only face visible is that of the teacher. The idea sprang from a 2009 incident when the two photographers tried to take photographs of children at a Kingston school. "The headteacher told us we could only photograph one child and only show the back of his head," says Harvey.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Raoul Moat: Sympathy for a murderer?

David Cameron has said the he "cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy" for Raoul Moat. Apparently it is "absolutely clear that Raoul Moat was a callous murderer, full stop, end of story."

This depresses me. While I can imagine there are those who jump on the media bandwagon to try to lash out against the Police (perhaps this is empathy, not sympathy?) - those I would disagree with - can we really cut our logic of the individual so short as to say "this person was a murderer"?

Does the PM really mean that individuals are to be judged based on their post-hoc labels? That we must condemn anyone that commits an act of savagery because the act has been committed? What of his family background and obvious emotional issues?

If the PM is so short-sighted, this cannot bode well for generations of "individuals" left to delinquency. Perhaps we should separate out all motives from their connection to others and from the world around us - gang members should be shown no mercy because they are gang members. Drug addicts should be denied rehabilitation because they are drug addicts. Bullies should be jailed because they bully.

Even to the untrained mind, this is clearly crass, ill-focused philosophy. If we are to improve anything in this world, then we must build on support, networks, friendship and respect. It is lack of these things that drives people to become "individualistic", to force a separation or rebellion between themselves and the other forces in the world. Forcing labels onto people at this point merely encourages them to continue to destruction.

That our "leader" fails to understand this role of support is disturbing. Without an honest sense of aid, we risk slipping into the world that the Daily Express seems to want to usher in - one based on division and illogical expectations to rights. One based on lazy conflict, in which the afraid seek the help from the violent.

What we see is never the end, or the beginning of the story. Only a tip of it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Former Police Chief says terrorism policy increased risk of terrorism

Dr Robert Lambert, former head of the Muslim Contact Unit at Scotland Yard, says that Terrorism policy flaws 'increased risk of attacks' through a neo-con approach intent on, effectively, a blanket ideological clampdown:

The effect of this, said Lambert, was to cast the net too wide: "The [British] analysis was a continuation of the [US] analysis after 9/11, which drove the war on terror, to say al-Qaida is a tip of a dangerous Islamist iceberg ... we went to war not against terrorism, but against ideas, the belief that al-Qaida was a violent end of a subversive movement."

Lambert said this approach alienated British Muslims, as those who expressed views such as opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, also held by non-Muslims, feared that holding such beliefs made them suspects.

(Emphasis added)

Action creates reaction. This is simple physics.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Apparent Panic and Self-Flagellation

In today's the other day's Guardian, former Haringey children's services boss Sharon Shoesmith takes aim at 'naive' politicians for creating a panic around the Baby P case:

"She warns ministers that plans to publish serious case review inquiries into child deaths in full could backfire by sending child protection workers "running for cover" to avoid blame rather than sharing lessons of how to improve services."

(Link hat-tip to Dominic Campbell)

But what is the "Baby P effect"? Why are we left with a bunch of adults trying to direct responsibility and accountability around like an Indian car park?

Hold that thought a moment and now go and read all about self-flagellation. Apparently the late Pope John Paul II used to whip himself, and many individuals still regularly carry out fairly extreme acts of self-harm, even willing crucifiction.

The public spectacle around these events is, at one level, understandable. (How many people gather round glowing screens to see Big Brother contestants booed?) Yet at another level, it is disturbing to our distilled sense of ethics. On another level again, though, it is also entirely necessary. Without spectacle, flagellation loses its power. Only through public demonstrations of misery can the derived aspect of "punishment" over-ride the individual's sense of atonement. As the BBC article notes, self-punishment "is an expression of remorse for sins". The key word here is "expression".

We may, as a nation, be gradually losing our faith-based skin. But on a more fundamentally psychological layer, this self-flagellation is still all too-evident. The apparent wilingness to suffer for someone else's suffering holds power. It is the ultimate act of passive-aggressiveness. It says "By taking on your suffering as my own, I now hold responsibility for your redemption. I have made your salvation my power."

Every time someone screams "something must be done!", this process takes place again. There is Power in Panic. There is Authority in Altruism. Therefore beware: fear + love is often just an abduction of trust. Say hello to Orwell's O'Brien - who is, at least, open as to his convictions.

Or, rather, there is the perception of power and only apparent authority. Responsibility is far removed from action, from honest salvation. In the same way that being classified as a "father" does not make one "be" a father, so labeling oneself as a saviour says nothing of the act of saving. Indeed, one might argue that focusing on the label may well detract from an impetus of action.

This is why we need to continue to ask questions in the face of panic, why scepticism is essential. It is too easy to let others tell us more about ourselves than we think we know - the world is confusing and dangerous. But realistically, it is no more confusing or dangerous than it has ever been. If anything, it is merely our ability to cope that has changed, and our faith in that ability.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Linguistic Grey Areas

Two interesting pieces on definitions of law-breaking -

1. The "evidence" against Pentagon "hacker" Gary McKinnon exists in a grey area which means he can be extradited to the US, but not tried in a UK court. Or something. It's fairly fuzzy - caused by it being a cross-border case, and that there's an interest in "bigging up" the evidence but not making it particularly substantial. (via Janis Sharp, Gary's mother)

2. Replace people with data, and the UK with the EU, and you get the similar problems caused by trying to define what a "terrorist" is. Never mind the distinction between a terorist and a "freedom-fighter" (whatever that is) - should we consider a striking firefighter a terrorist? (via Glyn Moody)

As definitions get more important, the spaces between them start looking like battlegrounds.

Anti-"Terrorist" Cameras Bagged

This is a bizarre set of stories. 218 cameras have been installed in Birmingham without consultation with local people, mainly in areas with high crime rates but also large Muslim populations. Financed by the ACPO's "Terrorism and Allied Matters" (TAM), these are apparently intended to catch everything from petty crime up to terrorists in action (but not anything that causes real crisis).

The funding and positioning for the cameras seems to have been handed down from somewhere in the great surveillance sky though. A right to "public privacy" seems to extend to being told where the cameras are.

However, pending further consultation and, one suspects, a fair amount of installation roadworks and council meetings, the roll-out will be covered up by plastic bags.

At least for now. As the last article in the chain notes, the "cameras will not be used until consultation has been carried out." Whether the results of the consultation make any difference is left as an exercise to the reader.

All this begs the question - which supermarket will be sponsoring the bags?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Virtual furniture, real value?

More blurriness between the real and the virtual. The BBC reports that "Finnish police are investigating up to 400 cases of theft, with some members reporting the loss of up to €1000 (£840) worth of virtual furniture and other items".

A new insight though: Perhaps the blurriness is not a result of the "real" between mixed up with something pretending to be real. Instead, perhaps, it is value itself which is inherently virtual, subjective, and hyperconfigurable. If you want something to be valuable, then it has value. Things and experiences are intertwined when it comes to value.

If we move towards valuing "real" goods less, do these things become less "real"?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gurteen quicklinks

Catching up, David Gurteen's latest newsletter has some good points in it.

First, don't "solve" problems - respond to them. A good linguistic catch, "solutions" often imply that - BOOM - the job is done, when in actual fact all that's happened is a particular context has been responded to.

Context is everything.

Second, David links to Chris Brogan's article Pursue the Goal, not the Method - another solid bit of advice that is a) generally obvious to those that know, and b) ignored or forgotten by those who don't. As with Buddha's teachings, one should drop the raft once the river has been crossed. One shouldn't confuse the destination with the mode of travel, or even with the journey itself.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Singularity is Omni-directional

Crisis is a Simulation, a transformation of the world into a"WHAT IF?". We are living in a possible scenario, but it is not necessarily the one in which we exist.

Crisis is a fast-forwarding; an amplification of the cracks appearing in our systems; an equating of what has happened once with what has happened everywhere. Following Baudrillard, the links we so feverishly enforce - trade, communications, sex - are the same links we fear our crises traveling through. The molehill is a mountain. The one-off is everywhere.

Everyone carries knives. All memes are instantaneously contagious. Paedophiles are viral. Terrorists are so horrendous because they look Just Like Normal People.

The singularity is uni-directional.

How do we plan for change when change itself can come and go before we even notice? Better to react to what has happened, and call it planning for the future.

Or are we able to take two steps back? To see not just past the theatre of crisis and paranoia, but also into the depths of change itself; the change we have instigated to overcome deficit. The unbundling of inefficiency. The escape to the imagination.

Can we replace virtual "solutions" with real problem-solving?