Whoa there

Added: 15-2-2008

Slow down, you move too fast.

A very brief interjection, if I may. I’m very much out of practice at this journal business. I am sworn off it, strictly, but I just want to get this right for the public record.

We did argue about this one a couple of times and my opinion was very straight forward: talking security cameras are much better than non-talking security cameras.

A bog-standard security camera is a lot less likely to stop someone being beaten up/stabbed/shot than a talking security camera that can make the potential protagonists in the crime realise that they are likely to get caught if they carry through their actions and that the police are on their way. In my younger days I went to court twice for cases where I was witness to an assault/stabbing on friends. Talking CCTV cameras may have prevented these, regular CCTV would like have not, though conceivably may have aided in prosecution.

I am non-committal on the subject of CCTV in general and I will leave the argument to those who have a strong view either way. I have plenty enough subjects that I do feel strongly about and plenty enough arguments to have without getting drawn into this one. Just to reiterate my view that if we are to have CCTV then I feel that a system that can intervene to prevent a crime of violence hapenning is much more valuable than one that can not.

Viva la revolution.

Thankyou for your time, hope you’re all well. Dave World is just dandy.

Biggup your 2008.

Dave                                Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

How does one get into America?

Added: 12-2-2008

Times are changing over here in Europe. It seems that those of us who actually want to visit the US in future will have to hand more personal details than ever before, all in the name of safety. The Guardian poses the question ‘America – more hassle than it’s worth?‘ on its website and it looks like travellers from Europe to the US will have to jump through more hoops than ever before to get into the land of the free. I remember when Dave and I landed in 2006 we had to get biometric eye scans and have fingerprints taken – now it seems that we will have to apply online for permission to visit the country before we even leave home. Where is all this leading? Essentially, in its understandable quest to protect its own citizens from incoming planes-as-weapons, or to prevent undesirables from entering its borders (by air – let’s not forget that a significant percentage of the country would charge that most undesirables are entering on foot on the southern border with Mexico), the US is changing the world and not for the better.

How? By placing such a massive emphasis on security, the US is demanding all other countries buck up their ideas regarding security and surveillance in order to have access to American soil. The knock-on effect of this is intense development in the biometric security industries and the surveillance industries – both online and off – in order to comply with American wishes. In the UK we are already getting used to being the most surveilled nation on the planet – for us, at least, this further demand for our own personal information is unlikely to come as a real surprise. But the problem is that America is basically telling all countries, from the democratic surveillance societies like Britain, to the undemocratic surveillance societies like China (and all the others in between), that this is how the 21st century is going to be. Once these measures are in place, it is unlikely that there will be any going back. Other countries will be able to use America – the symbol of freedom and beacon of democracy – as an example, and justify any of their own increased surveillance and security measures as a result. A similar situation can be seen in the types of anti-terror legisaltion that have spread around the world in the wake of the PATRIOT Act (nb. link is a PDF).

The US is certainly not the only country seeking to expand its surveillance activities to increase security. As a consequence of the goings on over there in recent years there recently appears to be more of a debate forming in the UK about the extent to which we are now living in a surveillance state. The newspapers are picking up on it, and journalists always love a good reference to 1984. For me though, it is a real worry, and not just a spooky blip that will disappear when ‘peace’ returns (remember that George Bush has implied that the war on terror could even be a war without end). Unfortunately, for me it is difficult to imagine a situation where once all of the new extremely expensive security equipment is paid for and installed at the world’s airports (thus sustaining a relatively new industry with 1000s of orders and generating a lot of money for those involved) it ever gets removed. Civil liberties are often given up easily, especially when they are placed in a context of ‘Do you want security or privacy?’, but I think that they will be very difficult to get back. Already we are used to giving up a vast amount of our private information to get better deals at the supermarket or get recommended items at Amazon. If we do it voluntarily, we are more likely to do it on demand. The danger that we sleepwalk into the next phase of this trend – as exemplified by the new travel measures the US wants to impose on travellers visiting America – is very real I suspect, and I am unsure where the political will to stop it will come from. In the future, all travel procedures might look like the one we will see coming into play in the States.

One of the topics Dave and I used to argue about on the walk was the intrusion of surveillance into people’s lives. The key issue was the speaking security camera, a scheme that was pioneered in the north-east of England. If you were not already aware, the United Kingdom already has the most CCTV cameras cameras per head of population in the world (although nobody seems sure about the extent to which they actually reduce crime, instead of just displacing displacing it. regardless of this the government still seems to want to install more and we still seem to accept the line that they are improving our safety). The ones in the north-east do something more however – if you are seen doing something naughty on camera, the person viewing you is able to use a loudspeaker system to tell you to stop. Essentially, people in the trial area will be watched, and then they behaviour will be explicitly modified by an intervention from the loudspeaker. This horrifies me, although in some ways it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why – or, to put it another way it just seems such a blatantly intrusive act on behalf of the government that I am almost screaming ‘No brainer! How can this be justified?!’ Dave, on the other hand, saw the speaking camera as a logical next step in the surveillance we have already come to terms with, and saw nothing wrong with it. His argument, if I remember correctly, was that we already have security cameras, so why would they not do this?

I completely disagreed. I think that to suggest that just because a system exists it is ethicially correct is is fairly good example of what I mean by sleepwalking into the next stage. It is almost suggesting that our civil liberties have already been given up and we can do nothing but deal with the reality.

I truly hope that this is wrong, in the same way that I truly hope that the incoming US security measures will be watered down, or reversed. But we (England at least) are becoming such hysterical societies post 9/11- just this week we can witness the recent furore over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on Sharia, or the utter terror of our kids that is present in today’s news that we actually have devices near our shops that emit painful soundwaves to move teenagers on – that our governments rush to deal with this hysteria by imposing more restrictions on civil liberties in a quest to make us feel safer. Where all this will end is anyone’s guess.

Stuart                                 Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

Super Sunday

Added: 3-2-2008 1

hmmm, I think I’m averaging about two entries a month now, not so good at keeping this thing going. one of the reasons is the hectic period that my life seems to have entered into…I am now very definitely living in The Hague, and even moved to my own apartment on Friday. consequently I now seem to have a list of things to do as long as my arm, a list that includes things such as : get Internet access at home (this comes to you from some sort of Polynesian-themed cafe in the town centre, decidedly un-Polynesian guitar sounds playing in the background. no Internet access at the apartment so far…which is just the worst of the worst for the sadly addicted-to-the-Internet like myself. I feel…lost), get my stuff moved down from Copenhagen (latest cost estimates: £750. Jesus), plan an entire year of work travel and work projects, write a book about walking across America. nothing too small then.

the apartment I’ve moved into is in the middle of redecoration right now. this means that there’s wallpapering being done, tiling going on in the bathroom, bags of rubbish everywhere and even a front door for the place still under construction. I knew this would be the case as I kinda got let in early, but it’s still disorientating and I can’t quite get to grips with it yet. I have an office, for the Writing of the Book, but I can hardly get in there for boxes of tiles and power leads. I think it’s going to be difficult to get anything done for the next couple of weeks.

which means that it’s a bonus that the TV works (just). Super Tuesday coming up and all that. lots of excitement in the European press, the story is really receiving a gigantic amount of coverage. BBC World seems to have billions of programmes about the election on at the moment, from travels with truckers to panel discussions about who is potentially the most revolutionary President. this last subject is of interest to me, especially as the Brits are so interested what comes next in America. while we have already had the ‘first’ of a female leader (yes you, Thatcher, bloody nightmare that you were) I have been thinking this week about how far away the UK seems to be from a black leader, or a leader from any ethnic minority for that matter…maybe this is why some papers and TV channels are so interested in Obama. Britain’s political class still seems to be dominated by white blokes from a certain background – or at least the options open to us regarding future leaders seem to consist only of Dangerous Dave Cameron and…well, that’s about it in our great democracy. Dangerous Dave, some of you might be aware, is a plummy public schoolboy going to some lengths to convince British voters that he’s not, in fact, a plummy public schoolboy. he seems extremely familiar to me as a Tory, and represents about as much of a ‘change’ as another Bush in the White House would.

so the British, or at least the ones on Question Time the other night, are looking across the Atlantic with a bit of enthusiasm at the moment, as we see the way the American electoral system seems to primed to give the country a first woman President, a first black President, a first Mormon President, or the oldest President yet. it’s a story we can all be interested in, especially when there’s a sub-text of America being acceptable to Europeans again, after 8 years of what is almost universally perceived as a disasterous Bush Presidency. we want America back, not just because where it leads we follow, but because I think a large amount of us feel that the western world needs a little bit of a lift at the moment – a lift that might come with a line being drawn under the last 8 years of American overseas projection. quite who we want I’m not sure yet, but the coverage on the TV and in the press is so extensive that you can be sure that no one over here is going to be wanting for information…

I will desperately try to get more entries in this blog. First though, Super Bowl, then Super Tuesday…

nb. I should point out that I can get BBC1 and BBC2 here in the Netherlands. excellent! or maybe not, especially for notoriously useless language learners like me. it means I can kind of pretend I still live in the UK, and ignore all the other channels with people speaking funny Dutch on them. not good.

Stuart                              Have a comment? Please sign the guestbook

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